September 30, 2022

“While the premise is relevant in the world today, and the story is good, some elements of the film drag it down to a run-of-the-mill thriller.” Are you ready to face Black Mail?

There are many low-budget British films that are currently either in production or are about to be released. One of these is ‘Black Mail.’ Directed by Obi Emelonye, the film tells the tale of an ordinary man who falls victim to that vile crime. Online blackmail. We’ve probably all had that spam email threatening to release our darkest secrets to our nearest and dearest. For the majority of us, it’s just something that we send to the bin and delete. But for some, they do have something to fear. This is the basis of the film. A cyber game of cat and mouse.

And for part of the runtime, it actually works. However, it falls into the trap of trying to say something while neglecting its characters somewhat. While the premise is relevant in the world today, and the story is good, some elements of the film drag it down to a run-of-the-mill thriller.

BLACK MAIL

The film follows Ray Chinda (O.C Ukeje), an actor who is currently in the middle of shooting his latest movie. He is also having marital problems with his wife Nikki (Julia Holden). Due to the lack of intimacy in his marriage, Ray watches porn on his computer while pleasuring himself. However, his transgressions are captured by a Russian hacker and blackmailer, Igor (Nicolay Shulik), who uses Ray’s actions to extort money from him. With his wife’s cousin and his manager Reuben (Alessandro Babalola) knowing Ray’s problem and advising him, Ray decides not to pay, sending his blackmailer an email telling him to go to hell.

Of course, Igor knows that the victims who answer have something to hide. He ups his game of wits with Ray, threatening him more and more. Meanwhile, Igor is also running a sex ring with several women who came to the UK with the offer of employment. Again, they have been trafficked to work in prostitution. But Igor has an ulterior motive behind his crimes. His daughter is suffering from a life-threatening condition that requires thousands of pounds to treat. His blackmail schemes are providing the funds to pay for his daughter’s treatment. Meanwhile, the pressure gets to Ray who constantly collapses on set. Something has to give.

THOUGHTS

The film poses the question: How far would you go to keep your private life private? The film is a conundrum in places. While we despise Igor for his actions and his attitude towards women in general, we can’t help but sympathize with his predicament. The question is posed: What lengths would WE go to in an attempt to save the ones we love? The film makes a good point here but sadly, goes back to the formulaic standard later. From a devoted father to a token villain, the film lets itself down towards the end. And any sympathy we have for Igor evaporates quickly. That’s not to say that he is a nice guy in a villain’s clothing. He isn’t and the film never lets us forget the fact.

His treatment of one of the women is shocking. Constantly raping her in his office, she soon becomes pregnant yet again. But she can’t see the fact that Igor is simply using her. His promises of leaving his wife for her ringing extremely hollow. And in one scene, the truth is laid bare. This leads to a confrontation that has serious consequences for one of them. And one we can see coming but hope against hope that it won’t actually happen. Of course, it does and we are left in a state of shock.

THE ACTING

For the main cast, the acting is strong. O.C Ukeje as Ray plays his part extremely well. Ray isn’t a bad man at all. He is simply a man. Someone who has needs and fulfills them in the lesser of two evils. But that isn’t enough to prevent him from being squeezed for money by the Russians. Ukeje portrays Ray’s despair and growing panic with great aplomb. And makes him a character we can all connect with. A husband, a father, and someone whose transgressions could lead to the destruction of everything he holds dear.

Julia Holden as Nikki hasn’t much to do. But when she appears on screen, she gives a performance as a seemingly wronged woman that connects. We can feel her despair at what she wrongly believes Ray has committed against their marriage. But she also comes across as someone strong, who will fight for everything. When we first encounter her, we don’t like her. But our kinship towards her grows as the film goes on.

NICOLAY SHULIK AND ALESSANDRO BABALOLA

Nicolay Shulik is perfectly despicable as Igor. We don’t like him from the minute we first encounter him. But this fluctuates as the film goes on. One minute, we can’t wait to see him get his comeuppance, the next feeling sorry for him as his reasons for his actions become all too clear. It is a terrifically slimy performance from Shulik. And one that deserves to be praised.

Alessandro Babalola as Reuben is the one character who we enjoy seeing every time he comes onto the screen. He appears near the film’s start and continually appears throughout the running time. He gives a wonderful performance in the film and is one character that we hope makes it to the end credits. He is witty, understanding, and a credit to the film as a whole.

DETRACTIONS

Some of the acting in the film is appallingly bad. I shan’t name them but you’ll see what I mean once you’ve seen the movie. This is one reason why at times, we are taken out of the film and have to shake our heads to get the image out of our minds so we can concentrate on the story. It is a major detraction from the events that are playing out on the screen. The same goes for the screenplay. While the topic is an up-to-date and relevant one, the film makes the mistake of moving away from the subject too often.

And that drags the film down. And at times, the film slows down to a crawl where it should really be grabbing our attention. Ok, so the film is more of a drama than a London gangland movie. But by slowing down to a snail’s pace, we are lifted out of the drama to wait for the next piece of the puzzle to fall into place.

The film does have some good stories to tell that intertwine throughout the proceedings. But sadly, at some points, they are thrown in in a scattergun approach. The plot thread following the trafficked women is a topical one and one that happens far too often across the country. But at times, it feels like it has been thrown into the mix without much thought. This is a pity as the film does have a lot to say for itself. And in a good way as the directing by Obi Emelonye is for the most part, extremely good.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The film is written, directed, and produced by Obi Emelonye and is set in inner-city London. It sees a collective of hardcore hackers attempting to exploit a compromised victim in the growing climate of digital hacking and blackmailing victims. And is pretty good for the most part. It is a decent enough film that promotes the Black British film industry quite well. And many of the cast turn in performances that raise the film up. But sadly, the detractions I’ve mentioned drag the film down. Which is a shame as it had the potential to be a great British film.

Don’t get me wrong, the film is worthy of the price of admission or buying on home entertainment. But it left me unfulfilled at times. However, Obi Emelonye has made a film that does have a lot to say about the state of Britain in these times. It drags the subjects it portrays into the light and exposes them for the vile things they are. It makes us think at times and portrays the events in the way they should be seen. For that, the film does what it needs to do. A good effort that could have, and should have been a film that warrants awards attention. A slightly missed opportunity.

“Black Mail” will be released in selected cinemas across the UK on August 26th by Evrit Films alongside Screen Nation Media.

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