Coming off the immensely satisfying Canadian-produced thriller Cold Road, it’s no surprise that another genre film would catch my eye. Lonzo Nzkwe’s sophomore feature Orah certainly seemed to have all the hallmarks of a satisfying thriller: a protagonist in way over their head, detestable villains, bursts of blistering action, all wrapped up in a slick production. What I didn’t expect was for the film to also be a haunting mediation on the immigrant experience and the devastating limbo of not being able to go home again.
On the surface, Nigerian immigrant Orah (Oyin Oladejo) is your average Toronto cab driver. But when the meter stops running, it turns out she is helping her shady employer launder copious sums of money in the hopes of bringing over her son Lucky (Emeka Nwagbaraocha) who she was forced to leave behind years ago.
But when the money laundering mission morphs into a drug run, Lucky is unceremoniously killed when he refuses to participate. With nothing left to lose, Orah begins a mission of vengeance, leaving a trail of blood in the pursuit of the man ultimately responsible, international criminal Bami Hazar (Lucky Ejim). But the path to justice won’t be paved exclusively with bullet casings as Orah finds unexpected help in the form of two Nigerian federal agents (Oris Erhuero & O.C. Ukeje) who may prove the key to her revenge or the undoing of it.
Orah opens with a literal bang (several in fact), and never loses its grip. Orah herself is perfectly cast in both her adult (Oladejo) and teen (Angel Oduko) depictions. She carries the baggage of several lifetimes in her eyes and the audience right along with her. Lucky Ejim radiates enough intensity to power a small town as Hazar and the remaining cast provides capable support. The film is slickly produced, eliciting maximum punch from its short bursts of action and making the most of its dual shooting locations of Toronto and Nigeria.
The script manages to subvert expectations in pleasantly surprising ways. You might normally expect Orah to conduct her mission of vengeance in a relatively linear fashion lone-wolf-style, but this path takes a sharp detour when the Nigerian agents enter the picture. There’s a depth here that you won’t find in many B-movies of this scope and budget. Orah finds herself isolated both from her home by a disapproving mother (don’t get me started on her father) and also in her adopted country due to her less-than-legal status. There’s certainly light at the end of her long tunnel, but at what cost? There’s also a particularly heartbreaking scene centered around the quote above, but no spoilers.
Orah proves itself a capable genre vehicle with more under the hood than you might expect. If social justice documentaries aren’t your thing, a homegrown thriller featuring the talents of Black Canadians both in front and behind the camera is as good a way as any to celebrate Black History Month.
Orah will be theatrically released in Canada starting in Toronto on Feb 9