A sheltered woman’s past comes back to haunt her when she’s thrown in jail for being an accomplice to her spy lover. Twenty years later, a group rescues her from jail and set up a semblance of her old house to make her remember a secret number her spy lover hid with her.
Set in Nigeria’s 1999 military-to-democracy transition days and the present-day democratic landscape of the country, The House of Secrets, a psychological thriller highlights theme of trust, life’s choices influenced by love, contrasts in time through the art of flashbacks in dialogue and photography. The past haunts the present within the walls, and lurking secrets come to light.
The upcoming movie has been described as a romance drama and film noir, a cinematic term used for movies that are mostly shot in gloomy grey, black, and white.
Directed by Niyi Akinmolayan, in collaboration with Anthill Studios, the movie was released exclusively on Prime Video on June 30, 2023.
Niyi Akinmolayan is also known for movies like Prophetess (2021), The Man for the Job (2022), and Hey You (2022).
The upcoming spy thriller stars Najite Dede, Femi Jacobs, Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi, Efe Irele, Shawn Faqua, Kate Henshaw, Anee Icha, Emeka Nwagbaraocha, Taye Arimoro, Gbugbemi Ejeye, Moyinoluwa Olutayo, Ekpenyong Bassey Inyang, Ebisan Arayi, Tobi Daniels, Matty Bayelsa and Fiyinfoluwa Asenuga.
Other crew include Oyekanmi Adeniyi – 1st Assistant Director, Tejuola Abrahamson – 2nd Assistant Director, Barnabas Emordi – Director of Photography, Niyi Akinmolayan – Editor,
Osemeke Pete – Script Supervisor,
Dolapo Adigun/ Niyi Akinmolayan – Screenplay, Ayodele Vinci – Production Assistant, Victoria Akujobi – Producer and Anthill – Executive Producer, Tomi Wale, Creative Consultant.
In an exclusive interview with Niyi Akinmolayan, he took us through journey of The House of Secrets. He explained that as a studio, they’re very interested in diverse storytelling, as they want to constantly experiment with genres, find different perspectives to some of the similar issues that he explored in most of the stories that are told.
Akinmolayan however hinted that The House of Secrets is particularly different because it came as a flash of some sort.
“I was in my office doing my regular, going through the internet, looking up stuff and I found a painting by a young artist. This painting had this really interesting visual that looked like there was a couple in a balcony, seen through a window. That’s something really striking about that image.
“For a long time, I had casually been doing some research on memory; on things that happened when people lose their memory, how the brain works, and all of that. One of the things that I had read was how the brain has an interesting way of projecting some of your past right in front of you and you would start seeing people that don’t actually exist and I started thinking, what if every time someone is staring through that window, what do they see? Is it just a projection of something in their head?
“The more I thought about it, the more it felt like a fantastic idea to explore. Then I started putting the pieces together. Who are this couple by the window? What is special about them? Who’s this person looking through the window? A 50 year old woman? This is a 50 year old woman struggling with something. I also realized from my research that most of the time when we forget something, it’s not that the memory isn’t there, it’s our brain protecting us the way the immune system will try and protect you from viruses, and it locks those parts away but also gives us some keys to unlock them.
“These keys are what medical people call triggers. I started saying, hey, what if there’s this memory that is locked somewhere that the body is preventing us from getting?
“I started thinking about numbers, where else would you hide numbers? I thought about post office codes and it started feeling almost like a spy movie with some sort of secret hidden.
I took the idea to different lengths.
“I didn’t find a scenario in Nigeria that I am aware of where you have spies’ stories. It’s really not in popular culture here. The way you have it in America, the British stories about the WWII and all of that. But of course, we have many organizations too, we have the police, so they are definitely spies here too, and it was important to ground it on something that we could connect to.
“Now, I’ve always been fascinated with the events of 1999 where we switched powers, the entire country was holding its breath that year and everybody kept asking what if something happens weeks after the change to democratic leadership? We all hoped that it worked.
“We all hoped that they were genuinely going to give the power to the democratic government because the greed to take over power was still very, very fresh with some of the military Generals then.
“So that is an idea that stayed for a while, I wanted to find stories around the events before the ‘99 handover and I just said, okay, fine, let me pull something from these thoughts and put into the story. That’s how the idea of the movie came,” Akinmolayan explains.
He said he chose the name ”House of Secrets’ because he thought it was catchy and sexy, but he also wanted a title that already gives people an idea of what the film is about.
According to him, people are already interested in stories about secrets, spy stories, people cheating on people amongst others, and that is probably going to stir people’s interest.
“One of the things that we know from film marketing is, if you can get people curious enough with the title, you already have half of the people who hear about it seated in the cinema. We are the only studio in the country that are really doing the Hollywood model for filmmaking: we build a lot of sets ourselves in-house. So we’re doing that thing.
“A major percentage of filming are done right there on our sound stages and the rest is done on location. This allows us go deep in production design to own our stories and the look of it. We knew we wanted a house designed like it’s 1999. A major chunk of production design money went to building the house,” he stated.
For him, he wants the movie to trigger people to have a conversation, not to end it.
“We don’t have black and white characters, it’s all good person. There’s no bad person, they are just people flowing through life and figuring out their way through it. What we do is we put our characters in situations that helps you as an audience to ask yourself questions.”
“What I do, and what this film will be, is ask what memories the audience will remember and will trigger something they don’t want to remember,” he said.
According to him, there is a subtle reference to the recent Obedient Movement that played around in the film.
He said the film says a lot about what loyalty really means when people follow a populist, how people have done their research to be sure of what is being followed and how easy is it to get people to buy into an idea without even knowing all the detail.
“I like to hear people have discussions when they watch my films. I want them to argue, I want them to defend a character. I want them to fight the characters but I want them to see this characters as people that can actually exist,” he added.
Speaking on what informed his casts and crew, he said usually casting is a tricky thing because there’s always the idea of what is the right person for the film, and sometimes this is to a business decision- ‘who is the person that will get more eyes to want to see the film?’
Finding that balance is really delicate, there were things I wanted to do with some of the actors who auditioned that I knew would push them, Akinmolayan said.
He said top on his list is finding actors that were going to be really dedicated to the work, people who cared about their crafts enough to put in that amount of work.
“The second thing is because of the movie idea, you don’t want to work with actors who also do not understand what you’re trying to. There has to be a level of intelligence required to execute at this level and for this film.
“We also want to work with our friends, we want to work with people that we like working with. People that will take work pressures for what it is and nothing personal, every filmmaker wants to at least have those people because it’s easier,” Akinmolayan said.
According to him, Najite is a fantastic actress (and a director as well) who understood all the nuances and the subtle messages and even the subjects that the film was pushing, so it was very easy to get around.
“Shawn is a fantastic guy, I have seen him audition once so when he came for this audition, he was the guy! Efe has worked with us before so we know what she can pull off. There are certain things you want people to do as a couple in a film, you need to be sure that they are comfortable and professional enough to do it.”
He described Kate Henshaw as a veteran, adding that she particularly understands these kind of films in a way a lot of actors don’t.
He however noted that it was interesting because she had been called for a different character and while script reading was being done, she was reading for the character she eventually played.
“She got into the calabar woman role easily, she was enjoying it and it hit me — just look at that! This role is yours!
“Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi of course, fantastic actress from Tinsel, wanted to work with her. It didn’t really take much convincing to get her.
“Another person that I was really excited working with is Femi Jacobs, he turned out to be one of my favorites in the film. The first day he was on set and he opened his mouth to talk, we felt like we hit the jackpot!,” he said.