When the trailer for God Calling, the new film directed by BB Sasore arrived, it was both intriguing and superfluous. Benefitting from one of the most imperishable images of the 2018 film calendar- that of Zainab Balogun standing smack in the middle of Lagos’ famed Third Mainland Bridge and jumping elegantly into the vast waters below- this still wasn’t enough to stop the avoidable devolution into the pure Nollywood melodrama that followed. The scene also indulged Sasore’s predilection- also highlighted in Banana Island Ghost– for shooting around Third Mainland Bridge, the waters below and a white-robed God figure
The trailer doesn’t give away the entire plot of God Calling but it sets the tone that Sasore’s film follows rather faithfully, perhaps too faithfully. A faith based drama preaching the timeless message of healing and trust in a higher power. Characters who appear to have everything are pushed to the edge where they are stripped of all sources of familiar comfort and are left with little choice than to pivot to the most high for guidance. To make things spicier, Sasore peppers his film generously with special effects that make the experience more rewarding, at least in the visual stakes.
Sade (Zainab Balogun) is a child of privilege. Heir to a considerable family fortune, she has no need to work to earn a living. She is married to a husband, Francis (Karibi Fubara) who dotes on her and shares a warm relationship with their daughter. Sade does not have much use for God and has found her tribe amongst a circle of supportive friends whom she can meet up for lunch to catch the latest society gossip. But there is a layer of discontent hiding under the surface, one that creeps up from time to time and manifests in her casual substance abuse.
Tragedy strikes and Sade finds that human life- and earthly possessions- are impermanent. Then she gets the call. The one that the film’s publicity material has presented generously. In a non-literal, zero ironic turn of events, God chooses to reach out to Sade via a series of calls on her iPhone. Just like Biblical days, she is called by God to head east, to a place where he will show her.
Is Sade a reverse spin on Abraham, father of all nations? Or is she the Job character, who loses everything dear to him but refuses to curse God. Maybe she is hallucinating, reeling from a lethal combination of post-traumatic disorder and substance abuse. The last option seems a lot more steeped in reality and may be the most interesting hypothesis but God Calling isn’t particular about being grounded.
The audience that will embrace God Calling without question is exactly the same one that will assume it perfectly plausible for God to speak to humans through the phone. After all stranger things have happened. So it would be wrong to expect God Calling to run along the lines of Darren Aronofsky’s 2014 Biblical epic, Noah in which faith, fantasy and frenzied dementia worked together to attempt a grounding of one of the Bible’s least plausible stories.
For God Calling, what you see is what you get but at least BB Sasore has the good sense to make his film a sight for sore eyes. While this is a big plus for God Calling, it is also the film’s undoing as Sasore moves to sacrifice simple story telling for the thrill of his shiny toys. After a while he gives up on the story entirely and appears enveloped in a separate micro-film from the one he started with. Large chunks of God Calling play like Sasore has doubled down on a mini VFX project, one that is only tangentially related to the film’s premise and does not necessarily complement it.
The central story of Sade and Francis suffers as a result, coming in third place in order of sustaining interest, behind the VFX and a sub-plot involving the parents of the couple, fronted firmly by Richard Mofe-Damijo, Onyeka Onwenu and Nkem Owoh. Doesn’t help that pacing is slow, sluggish almost and that Balogun and Fubara even though adequate, cannot quite between them, summon up the gravitas to keep the story engaged.
The Christian faithful will find God Calling suitably satisfying though and the film probably has a strong afterlife in faith based circles. Intentions are fine but God Calling is unlikely to hold up strongly in more mainstream circles.
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