When you’re putting an action movie on Netflix for the whole world to view, there should be some basic criterion that needs to be adhered to. All the action and fight sequences should look either believable or spectacular (or maybe both) on screen. Sure, a director has the choice to do anything as he is the captain of the ship, but the actions you see in Moses Inwang’s latest socio-political thriller, Blood Vessel, really don’t make any sense. It is just plain bad. There are a lot of gunfights as well as physical combat in Blood Vessel, especially during the final act, and all of it looks unbelievably amateurish. In fact, I dare say this but even some fan-made movies look better than what we see here.
There’s a reason I am jumping into the criticism before anything else here. If you must know, the Nigerian film industry is quite a big deal these days. Thanks to a variety of movies of different genres appearing one after another on Netflix and the audience gobbling everything up thanks to the hunger for new content, Nollywood is actually being recognized as a force to reckon with. The vastly different political, social, and economic state of the West African country, as well as its unique cultural history, has played a huge role in that. While the stories these Nigerian films have told us are not particularly unique (barring a few exceptions like Anikalupo, which arrived last year and was being hailed as the Nigerian Game of Thrones), the way they’ve been presented to the audience is much different from American movies. That’s why the horrendous action in Blood Vessel is a huge spot of bother, especially when you consider the fact that Moses Inwang is a pretty big name in Nollywood. He is known for making genre movies with social commentary that are used to put many societal issues under the microscope while entertaining the audience. Naturally, Blood Vessel, Inwang’s first collaboration with Netflix, came with a certain amount of expectation.
Other than the action, though, it does work. Sure, there’s nothing particularly original per se, as we have all seen thriller movies with people trying to survive in a confined place. But Blood Vessel set up the premise quite nicely. It begins in the Nigerian Delta region. You see a lot of lush green images as the narrator talks about the beautiful earth that they live on, how grateful they are to nature, and the overall quality of life, which appears to be really nice. But that’s all in the past. The green has now turned grim. The pastures have turned into dead ruins. And the crystal-clear river has become a poisonous stream of darkness. An oil crisis and the government’s inability to contain it have ruined the lives of these people. The land is doomed, and any hopes of a bright future are gone. The only way out is to get out of here and go somewhere else in search of a better life.
After establishing the backdrop, though, Inwang makes it clear that the story is going to be a personal one. And the narrator himself let you know it. If you’ve seen Nigerian movies before, then you should know that they are always very direct with what’s happening, and there’s a severe lack of subtlety. This is not exactly a criticism but rather an observation. But given that a review is primarily the opinion of the person who’s writing it, I believe these movies would really benefit if the directors stopped spoon-feeding everything, especially now that they are being made for an international audience that is familiar with many things. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Blood Vessel. The proceedings here are as straightforward as they can get. The six main characters come together only due to an unforeseen situation. They all board the ship, which is supposed to take them to the better life they’re all looking for. Of course, we can’t have a movie if that goes right. So the ship has to be a death trap with dark secrets inside it, which I am not going to spoil. Naturally, survival becomes an uphill battle for our main characters, and they fight tooth and nail to get to a fairly generic climax.
I am a fan of both survival and claustrophobic thrillers. If they’re done well, I get to bask in an anxiety-inducing but very rewarding experience, which is the whole point. Sadly, that couldn’t quite happen with Blood Vessel. There’s not much of a thrill here, as you are pretty much able to figure out how things are going to go. Nothing you see here is something you haven’t seen before. Which brings me back to where I started—the action. Even with a generic, wafer-thin plot, a movie can become something exceptional if the action choreography is done right. I have always emphasized the fact that the story is not always the main thing about a movie; it’s the craft that matters the most. Ironically, Blood Vessel actually scores in the department of story. It is evident that Inwang has put considerable effort into it. The characters are well-developed, and their motives are clear. But sadly, when it comes to the biggest selling point of the movie, Blood Vessel suffers badly due to its director’s (or the action coordinator’s) lack of vision. That is sad, given the movie has Netflix’s backing, which pretty much guarantees a lot of financial resources. The final result is a two-hour-long mediocre movie with a decent story and disastrous action that definitely has no lasting impact. It doesn’t provide much joy in the thrill department, and it doesn’t make a huge statement storywise, either. In this day and age, when the audience has the option to choose from a sea of content, Blood Vessel is destined to drown and never be found. You can give it a watch, and whether you’re going to stay put for two hours or leave after a few minutes is totally up to you.