The Weekend

The Weekend (2024)

The Weekend had its world première at Tribeca 2024, 9 June 2024

Daniel Oriahi’s The Weekend opens, harrowingly, in medias res, with Luc Chezeta (Bucci Franklin) – bound, gagged and terrified – in a hut full of cultic paraphernalia, as he is bent over a stump to be beheaded. Just before the axe is seen to fall (although it is certainly heard), there is a different kind of cut: to Luc in different, more carefree circumstances. Jogging with earpods, he is the picture of modernity, when he gets a call from his mother Omicha (Gloria Anozie-Young), summoning him back home for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Having cut off all contact with his family some 15 years ago, Luc is overtly alarmed even to be hearing from Omicha, and does not like hearing her call him ‘Leo’, a reminder of the past he has so carefully put behind him. 

Luc now lives in the city far from the village of Kwasa where he was born. He is very lovingly engaged to Nikya (Uzoamaka Aniunoh) and just wants to forge his own future and a new family – yet it will be Nikya, raised by a now departed single mother and herself secretly pregnant, who pressures Luc to bring her to meet his family, so that she can feel a part of something. Under threat of being dumped by Nikya, Luc reluctantly agrees, but insists that their visit be just for the weekend. We already know from the prologue what Luc himself clearly suspects: that this trip backwards to his roots cannot end well.

“Family doesn’t matter,” Luc tells Nikya – but it clearly does when they are stopped by two armed thugs at the village entrance, and the only thing that stops them getting robbed and murdered on the spot is a scar burnt into Luc’s shoulder, the so-called “mark of the Chezetas” that shows his membership of the chieftain’s clan. That chief is Luc’s father Meki (Keppy Ekpeyong Bassey), who along with mother Omicha warmly welcomes their prodigal son and his bride-to-be. Also in attendance for the anniversary party are Luc’s estranged but beloved sister Kama (Meg Otanwa), who has brought along her boyfriend Zeido (James Timothy Gardiner). The contrast between Luc and Zeido is immediately obvious: where Luc is, as Nikya puts it, “strong and kind and sensitive and sweet and confident and blah blah blah”, and sticks to his strict vegetarian diet even when meat is served with every meal, Zeido, describing himself repeatedly (and ridiculously) as “a man of substance”, is a carnivorous, preening, posturing, classist, misogynistic, homophobic, arrogant fool who expects women to serve his every appetite, and who physically abuses Kama. 

These clashing models of masculinity form the backbone of The Weekend, even as Meki represents a middle way. For while his hobbies include hunting and butchering his own meat, and while he lords it over the property like a patriarch, he treats Omicha as a queen and his equal, and recognises that “the lioness… is a better hunter than the lion.” There is a reason that his marriage has survived fifty years, while Zeido’s relationship with Kama seems likely to end long before any wedding bells can ring. The immediate problem in this family, though, is an issue of continued lineage. Though more than happy to shoulder the Chezeta burden in other ways, Kama is unable to bear children, while Luc has turned his back on his birthright – and so Omicha and Zeido are conspiring to bring Luc back into the fold, preferably with, but even without, Nikya and the new blood that she represents. Yet perhaps, after all, Luc may not have fallen too far from the tree, or entirely lost his taste for family tradition.

All these domestic dramas – the jealousies and rivalries and squabbles over legacy – will be relatable to anyone (which is to say everyone) with a family that occasionally causes them embarrassment or shame or disgust or self-loathing, and The Weekend plays out in part like an awkward comedy of cultural and generational clash, like a Nigerian variant on Jay Roach’s Meet the Parents (2000). Yet it is clear from the opening scene that things are headed towards terrains more closely associated with other genres – and while it takes its time revealing this family’s secrets unequivocally, horror viewers will be way ahead of the game, and surprised by little of what is eventually exposed.

This is in fact one of the film’s flaws. For while Oriahi’s film merges high melodrama with Hooper-esque massacre, its pacing comes stuck somewhere in between, with a near two-hour running time and some decidedly overstretched sequences all serving to undermine its central tension. Still, it turns out that, when soap and slaughter mix, a rich meaty flavour emerges, and even if viewers are more than familiar with the different ingredients going into this dish, their particular combination is something to savour for what Nikya designates as “a very distinct taste”. Meanwhile, family will prove to leave traumatic scars that last not just for the weekend, but forever.

strap: Daniel Oriahi’s family feature serves up a mixed dish of soap, satire and slaughter in its Meet the Parents scenario

© Anton Bitel