Review: African Apocalypse

Written and directed by Rob Lemkin, co-written by Femi Nylander and Matt McConaghy, a young man’s (Nylander) epic journey across Africa in search of a colonial killer.

The filmmakers made a very creative choice in how to tell this story, yes it’s a documentary but the way that it’s put together is much more in a narrative fashion, especially as it plays out like a conversation between Nylander and the colonialist whose path he’s following. While Nylander takes on dual roles of both narrator and subject, there are also a number of actors playing the voices of the historical persons involved in the path he takes which give the film an unusual personality, a more poetic telling. An aspect that partially comes from the readings of Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ throughout the film’s narration, which give a slightly haunting and atmospheric edge.

Lemkin’s direction is well done, it follows Nylander closely but really takes in the communities that he travels to, the people, the sights and the overall mood and emotions of its people. It moves freely and the footage is well edited to feel varied rather than constantly using single shots and angles. The surprising thing however is that Nylander’s behaviour in front of the camera is much less impactful than his thoughtful, insightful narration. In front of the camera he feels slightly distant, overly neutral and there are some rather awkward moments, it feels as though he could have potentially presented his journey without including so much of himself as while his narration provides that connection to the story, his physical presence isn’t so effective.

Another issue is its very sporadically graphic nature, it’s understandable why the footage was included to really hit home the barbaric, even psychopathic behaviour committed by these colonialists but it isn’t well enough blended into the film as a whole to make it feel entirely necessary. It also can come across as overly constructed at times, or even attempting to be more dramatic rather than observational or discussional. However, the exploration of its subject is well done, it provides a poignant insight into an important part of history that has lingering consequences all over the world. It explores several different aspects to give it more specific cultural perspectives, especially in regard to the spiritual elements, which are an interesting insight into the local beliefs and traditions.

African Apocalypse explores a period of history that still reverberates in the communities it so deeply damaged over 100 years later, it has a rich, narrative style but is undercut by feeling slightly forced at times and lacking a deeper emotion. There are some very well executed moments and a great style to the direction and editing but Nylander’s screen presence sadly leaves something to be desired while his narration is perfectly suited. It contains some truly eye-opening and disturbing moments of history that will likely be unknown to many and as a whole, it may have several weaknesses but it’s worth watching regardless.

Verdict: ✯✯½

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival and available now on BFI Player

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