Review by Sean Boelman
The debut of writer-director Merwai Gerima, Residue is an ambitious new film about trust and community. Even though Gerima’s perspective is undeniably a very refreshing one, the script is frustratingly messy and the style distractingly unpolished, preventing the movie from having the impact that it probably should.
The film tells the story of a young screenwriter who, after returning to his hometown seeking inspiration for a script about his childhood, finds that both the place and the people have changed drastically. Yet while Gerima’s script offers plenty of intriguing insight, the narrative structure is a bit too askew for the movie to be particularly compelling.
Much of the film takes the form of a series of conversations that the protagonist has with various individuals from his past. After a while, this structure begins to feel repetitive as the protagonist’s search for his childhood friend begins to yield the same results over and over again. By the time that excitement begins to occur, it is too little too late to invest the audience into the story.
That isn’t to say that Gerima doesn’t say something on his mind with his movie — the frustration comes with the fact that there isn’t anything of much substance to tie the film’s themes together. What Gerima says about communities and the way they tend to treat outsiders is truly fascinating, but it is unlikely that this will resonate will all viewers.
Part of the reason why the movie doesn’t work is that the character development is unfortunately lackluster. With a protagonist that is so dominant in every interaction in the film, it is disappointing that he isn’t made to be more compelling. Had Gerima spent more time exploring the protagonist’s emotions, both the character and the movie as a whole would have been more interesting.
That said, despite the flaws in the way the script is written, lead actor Obina Nwachukwu is at least able to make the character feel realistic. There is obviously a great deal of emotion in the role, and Nwachuku is able to express it in a way that is completely honest and believable. This is especially impressive given that many of the supporting players are so insignificant.
Gerima also brings a very idiosyncratic style to the film, and while it doesn’t always work, it shows that he has a lot of talent and potential. Some issues, such as poor sound mixing hiding the dialogue, are simple technical fixes, and others, like sometimes off-putting editing and cinematography, are the symptoms of overindulgence. However, hopefully he will be able to overcome some of these tendencies in future efforts.
Having a lot to say without a complete grasp of how he wants to say it, Merwai Gerima’s directorial debut Residue is underwhelming in its own right, but promises more to come from its ambitious helmer. If he is able to learn from his mistakes, Gerima’s next movie will be one to watch.
Residue debuted at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival which runs January 24-30 in Park City, UT.