Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2021)
This is another fairly random selection. The title Juju Stories jumped out when I was browsing through the Prime Video horror selection, but I didn’t really know anything going into it beyond this name and it being an anthology.
Despite Nigeria having one of the world’s largest film industries, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Nigerian horror film before. I remember seeing clips of a number of low-budget exploitation films on YouTube many years ago, but never a whole one. Those clips did nothing to prepare me for Juju Stories, however. This is a very different kind of film.
Juju Stories is currently available on Prime Video in the UK.
Juju Stories is comprised of three short films from different writers and directors, all working as part of a filmmaking collective called Surreal 16. There is no framing story, or any connection between the films beyond the involvement of Juju (West African folk magic) and the setting of Lagos.
In the first story, “Love Potion”, a young woman named Mercy has fallen for Leo, only to discover that he is already engaged to be married. When a friend tells Mercy how she used Juju to win her husband’s heart, Mercy decides to make a love potion. She slips this cocktail of menstrual blood and mortuary water into Leo’s tea and hopes for the best. But can anything good really come of such manipulation?
The second film, “Yam”, is something far stranger. An urban legend is going around Lagos, claiming that people are finding money on the street, and that those who pick it up are transformed into yams. We see the truth behind this legend through a mosaic of stories, including the dark fate of Tohfik, who inadvertently eats a yam that used to be a person.
We wrap things up with “Suffer the Witch”, in which a university student named Chinwe starts to suspect that her friend Joy is a witch. Chinwe’s boyfriend, Ikenna , is especially adamant that Joy is up to no good. Chinwe wonders whether this might be jealousy or misogyny on his part, especially once she learns that Ikenna and Joy have a sexual history. But should Chinwe be more suspicious than she is?
I’m sure there are all sorts of cultural aspects of Juju Stories that went over my head. “Yam”, especially, leans heavily into social satire, and there are probably implications to the use of yams in the story that I’m missing. The characters also seem to do a lot of code switching, especially in “Suffer the Witch”, adopting different accents, dialects and languages depending on the social circle and situation. This probably means a lot more to people familiar with the various cultures of Nigeria. Even so, I never felt alienated by this and found plenty to enjoy in the stories themselves.
Mercy, in “Love Potion”, is an aspiring novelist and avid reader. When she starts talking about her flatmate’s missing cat, I wondered if this was a sly Haruki Murakami reference. It becomes far more than that, however, when she starts making the connection herself. While “Love Potion” as a story doesn’t owe anything to Murakami, that little bit of meta-commentary made me chuckle.
Like any anthology film, Juju Stories is a mixed affair. “Yam” is the standout segment for me, mixing absurdist comedy with an unexpectedly dark ending. Both “Love Potion” and “Suffer the Witch” are more lightweight, but still entertaining. While I liked the concept of “Love Potion”, its execution could have done with more depth. There is something old-fashioned in the simplicity of both “Love Potion” and “Suffer the Witch”, and their stories might not have felt out of place in a TV anthology show from the 1970s. Even so, all three stories are good character pieces, and there wasn’t a wasted moment in any of them.
Barring a few weird bits of sound distortion, all three segments are polished and accomplished. I often dread low-budget anthology films, especially those made up of shorts from different filmmakers, as there are inevitably some painfully amateurish segments. Here, however, everyone in front of and behind the camera knows exactly what they are doing. It’s really quite refreshing.
For all the witchcraft and magic, I’m not sure I’d describe Juju Stories as especially horrific. All three stories have dark resolutions, although “Love Potion” is more melancholy than frightening. Even so, the subject matter places Juju Stories firmly in the horror camp, and I can certainly see it appealing to genre fans.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Dark August (USA, 1976)
- Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
- The Banishing (UK, 2020)
- Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
- Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
- Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
- Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
- You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
- No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
- The Sect (Italy, 1991)
- Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
- Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
- 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
- The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
- In the Earth (UK, 2021)
- Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
- Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
- Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
- Older Gods (UK, 2023)
- Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
- Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
- Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
- The Premonition (USA, 1976)
- Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
- The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
- Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
- Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
- Demon (Poland, 2015)
- Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
- El Conde (Chile, 2023)
- The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!