Blood Vessel 2023 Movie Review
The Nembe region in Nigeria was peaceful before the “evil mineral” was discovered beneath the ground: oil. Neglectful drilling practices polluted the waterways, killing marine life and threatening the health of residents. The malfeasance prompted rebellious protests, and we drop in on one just as it goes terribly awry – a group of protesters throw a molotov cocktail, killing a member of the militarized police force. CUT TO: A Nembe home, where Oyin (Adaobi Dibor) is locked in a room by her awful father Ebiye (Ebele Okaro Onyiuke). He doesn’t want her to see her boyfriend, Abbey (David Ezekiel), apparently because he’s threatening to sully his daughter’s chastity. Oyin then drops a big bomb on her father: she’s carrying Abbey’s child. Ebiye flips his lid. The man has no chill whatsoever.
Meanwhile, armed soldiers hustle through the streets, hoping to flush out the men responsible for the previous night’s death. Rebels Degbe (Levi Chikere) and Boma (Jidekene Achufusi) are in hiding, feeling the heat. In the commotion, Ebiye sees an opportunity – chasing Abbey with a machete isn’t working, so he tells the authorities that Abbey’s the leader of the protesters. Now he’s feeling the heat too, so he busts Oyin out of her room and they flee. In another home, Olotu (Obinna Christian Okenwa) and his brother Tekema (Sylvester Ekanem) pack their belongings. They’ve paid off an employee on a boat heading to Brazil, where they hope to find a better life. They head out to the docks.
That evening, Degbe and Boma hide from soldiers. Oyin and Abbey hide from soldiers. Tekema and Olotu hide from soldiers. Not everyone is in trouble, but it seems that dealing with Nembe authorities is no good no matter the situation. The six people happen across each other, and everyone joins Olotu and Tekema’s stowaway crew. They end up in a sweaty hold in the bowels of an oil tanker with not enough food and a bucket for, well, you know. Long journey. Long smelly journey. They’re hungry and Oyin is feverish, prompting them to pop the hatch and poke around for food and medicine – and then they meet Igor (Alex Budin), a creep-o smuggler with a lot of stolen crude and enough money to bribe anyone who might consider stopping him. He’s not a nice guy. And he doesn’t care much for stowaways.
Blood Vessel is a violent genre thriller that frequently devolves into uber-operatic melodrama down the stretch. It’s a bit much at times, and the way it treats its characters can be outright miserable to experience, but it mostly works. Some will find its approach to drama belabored, although unlike so many similar features, it takes some time to develop its characters beyond one-note types, so the harrowing events they endure at the hands of that psycho Igor carry some weight. That psycho Igor, wh’s an amoral serial-killer type who’s totally down with torture, and gets a big speech about how he was always a lousy hunter, but was great at skinning a bear – a speech that would have a more profound effect on the film if Budin was a stronger actor.
The plot becomes a hide-and-seek game as Igor and his thugs tie up and threaten some of our protagonists, while Abbey sneaks around, hoping to save his friends. The more depraved Igor gets, the more tiresome he becomes in his cliched villainy. We get some fisticuffs, knife fights and shootings, all bolstered by Inwang’s well-considered visual compositions, which emphasize the claustrophobia of a seaward vessel’s tight corridors. There’s not much subtext here, but the story is at least underscored with a hopeful notion, that enduring great hardship is sometimes necessary to escape oppressive environments to greener pastures. Yet the movie ultimately is more of a depressing tragedy, an M.O. it leans into far too heavily in the final scenes. It worked reasonably well until those last five minutes, which make little sense from both optimistic and pessimistic viewpoints. It should’ve quit while it was ahead.