A Long Review of Rhema Johnson Emmanuel’s ‘Bury Me’ (2021)

Theme Quote

‘Fortune favours the brave.’

  • Latin Quote

‘Behind every great fortune there is a crime.’        

  • Balzac

Film Title: Bury Me

Auteur/Director: Rhema Johnson Emmanuel

Publishers/Producers: Mighty Finger of God Ind & Co International Limited

Year of Production: 2021

Genre: Horror/Gothic

Executive Producer: Chibuike Godfrey Chukwujimbe

Mode/Duration: Seasonal (8 Seasons)/ Over Four Hours

Reviewer: Eyoh Etim

Introduction: Rhema Johnson Emmanuel’s Bury Me is a thrilling piece of filmic ingenuity that points to the ever increasing success story of the Nigerian movie industry. The moving drama can be described as the Nigerian horror or Gothic film. It stars Zubby Michael as Obiora and Sharon Ifedi as Zaram or Chizaram, among other talented hands in the Nollywood film industry. The film itself is a succinct dramatisation of the modern Nigerian cultural milieu and the dilemmas that young Nigerian males (and females) face on daily basis against the background of extreme poverty and the pressures to ‘make it’ in life as a way of overcoming generational penury and lifting their dependants out of the vicious cycle of lack and marginal existence. The play raises a number of salient issues on wealth acquisition and the mechanics of obtaining and sustaining it. It asks questions such as, how far is an individual prepared to go in securing trans-generational wealth? Is wealth obtained from questionable sources sustainable? To what extent can the individual resist the transformative power of money?

The film also subtly portrays the unequal and unjust structures of postcolonial Nigeria, where a university graduate can be a security guard and a driver to extremely wealthy individuals, while the children of these super rich individuals go through life with unquestionable confidence and arrogance. The film also depicts the existential madness that is usually implicated in materialistic pursuits driven by greed, avarice and the need to wield, not only political and economic powers, but also potent spiritual powers. This usually leads the individual to the occult and the cultic realms as creatively exemplified in the film. The film’s milieu is also where overt spiritualism thrives in all its evolutionary complexions as its characters strongly believe in the idea that the metaphysical affects and can alter the physical. All these are executed in the film through excellent movie craftsmanship as can be seen in skillful directing, rich and relevant costumes and props, artful lighting, appropriate musical scores and engaging dialogues, as well as in the deployment of postmodernist theatre tropes like magical realism, dark humour, suspense, flashback, allusion, dramatic and situational irony, among others. ‘Bury Me’ has a didactic purpose as it aims to teach to its audience the virtues of contentment, gratitude and the steady growth of an individual through hard work, diligence and dedication to duty, and most importantly, ‘patience!’ It also urges its viewers to ‘bury’ the deadly vices of greed and impatience which are the pitfalls that litter the road to success in life.    

Synopsis: Bury Me is a thrilling, awe-inspiring, suspense-filled Nigerian horror film that dramatises the craze for wealth and the consequences of greed and of dabbling into the world of occultism and cultism in search of wealth and power. The film, which is organised in 8 seasons, relates the story of Obiora, a young man who serves a rich master as a security guard and driver in Lagos, one of Nigeria’s largest cities. When the film begins, Obiora is pictured chauffeuring his boss to the airport in an expensive vehicle. Obiora’s master is travelling abroad and will be gone for four months. Obiora is instructed to take care of the house and should not allow visitors as the master has important documents in the house that must not go missing. He also assures Obiora of the prompt payment of his salaries. Later in the evening as Obiora is returning from the airport, he meets a stranded schoolgirl by the roadside and stops to give her a lift. Of course, it is now dark and many motorists had passed by without stopping to pick up the girl, except the kind Obiora. The girl, who is in her uniform, introduces herself as Chizaram, a student of Sprint International School, Benin City. The story she tells Obiora is that she came with her schoolmates for a Mathematics competition in Lagos but that the school bus had left without her. She pleads with Obiora to shelter her for the night and promises to leave the next morning.

Chizaram’s story sounds implausible to Obiora because, for one, it is irresponsible for any school to leave its students unaccounted for in any outing. Obiora promptly opts to take Chizaram to the nearest police station, but she begs him not to. She only needs a place to sleep for the night and will leave the next morning. Obiora finally gives in to her request. Unknown to Obiora, Chizaram is a ghost. She had died alongside her mother, Ifeoma, in a road accident while on their way to school. Perhaps this explains why Chizaram is in her school outfit in most of her appearances throughout the film.

On getting home, Obiora takes Chizaram to the room where she will sleep for the night. After giving Chizaram instructions about not touching anything in the house as his master had warned him about bringing visitors to the house, Obiora turns to leave. But then he has a call from home. When he picks the call, his sister by name Adanne says that Obiora’s mother wants to speak with him. Through this conversation, the audience gets to learn that Obiora had lost his father for over a year ago and that his mother and sister live in the village where they eke out a living. His mother complains that Onoma wants to seize his father’s land over the debt of N80,000 they borrowed for his late father’s funeral. A poor guard and driver, Obiora expresses his lack and frustration to the mother. The mother intends to beg Onoma for more time. Just as Obiora turns to leave, Chizaram says, ‘I can help you with the money’, to the surprise of Obiora. She gives Obiora a mysterious ATM card and asks him to withdraw the money the following morning to upset the debt. The card is mysterious because it is unmarked and has 777 as its PIN. Obiora initially declines but soon accepts as he has no choice.  

Obiora, in a long soliloquy, wonders at the strangeness of Chizaram’s offer, wonders at her identity and the possibility of getting into trouble if he makes use of the card. In a separate scene, a woman later discovered to be Chizaram’s Aunty (Sister Kusi), is seen desperately searching for her missing ATM card in an expansive and expensive mansion. A thinking audience then knows that there is a connection between the lost card and the one Chizaram has given to Obiora. Chizaram had magically retrieved her Aunt’s earthly ATM card and transformed it to an ethereal one for Obiora to use in accessing the hidden but unending wealth from the treasures of the immortal.

It is now morning and Obiora returns from the bank to angrily chide Chizaram for giving him a card that has no money on it. Chizaram insists that there is money in the account and that Obiora’s mistake was in checking the account balance instead of obeying her simple instruction which was to withdraw money. Difficult as it is to believe Chizaram, Obiora returns to the ATM and this time successfully withdraws the money. He is full of appreciation to Chizaram and is ready to take her to the park to board a vehicle to return to her school. But Chizaram says she does not want to return to the school. She wants to go back to Abuja where her parents stay. However, she neither knows the parents’ address nor their phone number. This is strange and puzzling enough and Obiora threatens again to take her to the police station. All these information gaps are ominous signs that question Chizaram’s human identity, except that being a teenager, especially one from a seemingly pampered background, one is bound to overlook her poor personal information knowledge. Unknown to Obiora, Chizaram is a ghost who died violently and is looking for a place to shelter herself until she is buried. She finds a safe haven in Obiora’s kindness and his master’s house for two nights. When she is about to leave, she rewards Obiora again. She gives Obiora another ATM card and instructs him to withdraw any amount he wants, even up to 10 billion naira. But there is a condition; that he must spend the money within the next 90 days, else it will all disappear. ‘Whatever is left after 89 days, property or money, will disappear,’ Chizaram tells Obiora after he has transferred over 10 billion naira into his account.    

The theme of greed is illustrated in Obiora’s act of withdrawing so huge an amount when he knows that he cannot possibly spend it within his lifetime, let alone for 90 days as instructed by Chizaram. This alludes to the contemporary postcolonial greed exhibited by African politicians who loot money that even their next seven generations would not be able to exhaust. Now Obiora has to engage in all forms of manipulative behaviour to keep the money as long as he could. He begs Chizaram to extend the period for him, and when this fails, he persuades her not to leave and uses the time of her stay to go around consulting traditional mediums and other spiritual power sources in a bid to find out ways of ensuring that the wealth does not disappear. According to Obiora, ‘I can’t experience an entity like this and remain poor,’ referring to Chizaram; which implies that he knows or suspects that Chizaram is not human, but cannot resist the wealth she promises. He is ready to live in the same house with an entity he does not know as long as there is promise of wealth. This prefigures his desire to kidnap and hold hostage Chizaram’s corpse later in the film when he realises that it is the only way to keep the wealth.

Obiora soon finds out that the 90 days given to him to spend all his new-found wealth would elapse on the 29th of September, and he wonders at the significance of that day. The first native doctor that Obiora consults appears to be a quack. He tells Obiora that he needs to sacrifice 3 virgins, instead of the 10 cows that Obiora proposes, in order to keep the wealth. Obiora rejects this suggestion because of the cost implication. Note that he does not see the sacrifice as inhuman; he rather fears being caught in the course of searching for the virgins, as he believes that it is difficult to come by a virgin in his society.

Obiora equally consults water spirits, Nde-miri, in his quest to keep the huge money permanently. The three priestesses tell him to be patient and that it is only Time that can reveal the truth that he seeks. The word ‘patience’ is spoken three times, which is also spiritually significant. Obiora leaves the shrine in anger, thus rejecting the message of patience from the gods.

The idea that money has transformative effect on the individual is well illustrated in this movie. This is not only seen in Obiora, it is also reflected in Adanne’s characterisation. When Obiora transfers N300,000 into Adanne’s account for her school fees and upkeep for life, her attitude changes. She admires herself in the mirror and, on the way to the market, throws away the vegetables her mother asks her to sell, even giving some free to people. She wonders why she should be selling vegetables when she has 300 thousand sitting in her account. Of course, her mother is unaware of the money as Obiora had charged her to keep it secret from the mother.

Chizaram vanishes from Obiora’s house after Obiora finds her funeral poster at a friend’s office in town. Earlier she had told Obiora that he was chasing shadows and that he could not keep the money longer than specified as no one had the powers to do so. This means that Chizaram knew that Obiora was going around trying to find a way to keep the money. The funeral poster reveals Chizaram and her mother’s full names: Miss Zaram Uzorchukwu and Mrs Ifeoma Uzorchukwu. Their burial date is on the 29th of September, the same date that Obiora’s strangely got wealth would disappear. This revelation establishes Chizaram effectively as a roaming ghost which seeks temporary shelter wherever she can find one until she is finally given a resting place through burial. This is the information that the occult medium (a woman) gives Obiora. This is a dramatic illustration of the African cosmological belief that the dead are not dead and that death itself is not the end of life, but rather a form of transition to another plane of existence. It is also demonstrated in the story that the dead are not powerless, but are powerful personalities that must be treated with respect. One then disobeys and disrespects the dead to one’s peril.

The medium also tells Obiora that the only way to keep the wealth is by ensuring that Chizaram’s corpse is not buried. Obiora uses the pieces of information he has to put together a story for the family of the late Ifeoma. He tells them that he is the father of Chizaram and that he travelled to Thailand after impregnating her mother, Ifeoma, but was jailed and could not come back home to marry her soon enough. He now owes his wife and daughter a befitting burial. He asks that the burial date be extended and that the two corpses be given to him. He calls himself ‘Ogbu ngwo ngwo na Thailand’ at this point in the film. Obiora is willing to lie and even change his identity in order to retain the wealth. This scene is a demonstration of post-emotionalism; the manipulation of emotion or the appropriation of emotion for personal gains. Obiora breaks the defences of the late Ifeoma’s family members with money. He transfers 500 thousand to Ikenna, the deceased brother, and gives the two elders of the family cash gifts as well. Only Ifeoma’s mother fails to fall for Obiora’s tricks and sweet tongue. She calls him a ‘ritualist’ and vows never to release the bodies of her daughter and granddaughter to him. This leads to a division among the family members, as the elders are seen quarrelling with Ifeoma’s mother. Ikenna later calls Obiora to apologise for his mother’s behaviour, making comments that disparage the traditions and norms of the people. Is there nothing money cannot do?

Chizaram retruns to confront Obiora on the lies that he has told her family about his relationship with her; warning him to retrace his steps from the evil plans he has against her. Obiora pleads with her not to hurt him. Obiora returns to the occult medium, who fortifies him and turns him into an immortal. It seems then that only immortal beings can gain and sustain immortal wealth. She also gives Obiora a pot whose contents should be sprinkled around the house to keep away the ghost of Chizaram.

Obiora uses the information on Chizaram’s funeral poster to know where her corpse is being kept at Heavenly Rest Mortuary. His intention now is to kidnap the corpse. Chizaram tries to warn her aunty about the planned kidnap but she engages her in a prayer duel each time, binding Chizaram and casting her out of her house due to fear. It does not appear though as if the prayers, both the Aunty’s and the pastor’s, have any effect on Chizaram. The reason for this is that Chizaram is not a demon, as she tells the pastor. It is only when the Aunty invites her pastor the following night that Chizaram is able to speak to the pastor, asking him to convince the aunty to move her corpse away from its current location.

The theme of metaphysical power play is seen in the battle involving Obiora and the mortuary attendant. This comes after Obiora’s men failed to bring back the corpse the previous day as the mortuary attendant dispersed them with his spiritual powers. In the end, Obiora proves that he has superior powers. The mortuary attendant is spiritually subdued and captured along with the corpse of Chizaram. The aunty arrives moments too late to learn of the kidnap. Her car had broken down on her way down to the mortuary and the repairs had delayed her. The funeral poster she finds at the kidnap scene implicates the graphic designer she contracted for the job and she hopes to use him to get to the corpse kidnappers. But of course, Obiora knows how to cover his tracks. He sends one of his men, Flash, to kill the graphic designer. This shows the extent Obiora is willing to go to keep the money; he does not mind having human blood on his hands, not even the blood of a friend.

Obiora compromises the mortuary attendant with money and persuades him to take care of Chizaram’s corpse to keep it fresh and from smelling. In any case, the mortuary attendant has no will to resist as he has also been kidnapped and stripped of his spiritual powers. Chizaram’s Aunty informs Ikenna through a phone call that the printer has been killed. She then seeks important information on Obiora but Ikenna does not have them, including his address and origin. He only has Obiora’s phone number which he gives to the woman.

The vehicle conveying Chizaram’s corpse to Obiora’s house stops mysteriously on the road. Obiora knows that Chizaram has stopped the vehicle. He orders her casket brought out and kept on the road and has it opened ritualistically. Chizaram’s body sits up and speaks repeatedly: ‘I want to be buried’ while Obiora counters her with ‘everybody must not be buried’. He then uses magical powers to make the corpse lie back in the casket. The casket is closed and the journey to Obiora’s house continues.

It is a terrifying sight as Chizaram’s corpse is ushered into the same bedroom she slept in a few days earlier when we thought she was a stranded schoolgirl saved by a kindhearted guard. The musical score that is used at this point in the film deepens the atmosphere of grief, horror and dread, making one to, at once, pity and fear the body being laid on the bed. The score, I believe, is an adaptation of Engelbert Humperdinck’s ‘Release Me’ (and Let Me Go’). Clement Pure and his team really deserve commendation for this score and all the others used in the film.

With the information Chizaram’s aunty obtains on Obiora, Ikenna and his men pay Adanne a visit. He informs her that Obiora, her brother, killed his sister and used her for money ritual, while at the same time refusing to release the corpse. He is given three days to return the corpse or face the consequences, include burning down the family house with mother and daughter in it: ‘Three days! Make e no exceed!’ When Adanne informs Obiora of Ikenna’s visit and his threats, Obiora sends assassins after Ikenna, but Ikenna escapes with a bullet wound in his arm. He is now determined to deal with Obiora as he appears to accept a friend’s suggestion that he be fortified so that no bullet would be able to penetrate his body. It is seen in this film that oppression and victimisation breed bitterness and revenge.

Meanwhile, Obiora is busy buying up properties in Lekki and in Banana Island, throwing parties and enjoying the proceeds of his gargantuan wealth with ladies. He, of course, seems to have forgotten about his objective of getting married once he secured the unearthly money. This film illustrates that money has transformative power on the individual. Sensing that Ikenna would attack his mother and sister, Obiora sends his men to relocate his family from the village. But Adanne runs away when she sees the men outside their gate. She thinks they are hired killers from Ikenna and his gang. Together with the mother, Adanne runs to the bush, where they engage in heated arguments as the mother accuses Adanne of hiding information from her. It is seen here that the effects of what the child does in the city reverberate to the family in the village.

One day while the attendant is cleaning Chizaram’s corpse, she sits up and says: ‘Make me swallow an egg’ repeatedly. The attendant returns with an egg and ritualistically feeds the egg to the corpse. The corpse is transformed and is now imbued with a new and renewed life force. Eggs are ritualistic objects in African traditional milieu. It is therefore suitable for the purpose to which the script writer puts it in the movie. Bright like an angel, the new life force of Chizaram leaves its body to fight its final battle to be buried against those who profit from her current situation. Chizaram’s ghost kills all of Obiora’s security guards with poetic and magical slaps. She strips Obiora of his occult powers and slaps him to submission. Obiora begs for his life and Chizaram warns him to return her corpse to the mortuary within 24 hours or face death: ‘No powers can save you this time around,’ she tells him. It would then appear from this movie that the greatest need of a corpse is to be buried. One then wonders why bodies are usually kept for months on end after death has occurred, usually in the quest for frivolities that even the dead person does not care about.

Chizaram appears to Ikenna and dissuades him from pursuing his revenge on the Ukochukwu family as mother and daughter are innocent and her corpse will soon be returned to the mortuary. Obiora finally returns Chizaram’s body to the mortuary amidst lamentation on the difficulty of returning to poverty after tasting wealth. He also asks Chizaram for forgiveness. Obiora also pays Ikenna a reconciliation visit and begs for forgiveness. All is now set for the burial and the movie comes to . . . a happy ending?

#Watch out for More on ‘Bury Me’#

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One thought on “A Long Review of Rhema Johnson Emmanuel’s ‘Bury Me’ (2021)

  1. It doesn’t make sense to me at least the corps should be buried as said by zaram and also the mist behind the 29thof Sept. Should be known if zaram is going to forgive him and leave the money for him and also be put to rest .

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