Julien Neaves – Editor
On March 28 the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (ttff) gave Caribbean viewers an isolation gift with #WatchaMovieOnUs: Online Screening Series – 14 films shown over 14 days, each for 24 hours, on its website. Now as you would see in the RMR About section, one of the goals of this site is to promote Caribbean film, or “Cariwood” as I call it.
So ttff has inspired me to do my own review series, 7 Days of Cariwood, which will be a mix of the Online Screening Series films and other Caribbean films. For part 3 of my review series we will be giving the Online Screening Series a brief rest and checking out Trinidad and Tobago gangster crime drama Zesser: The Movie. With a mild SPOILER ALERT let’s start zessing:
Shot 1: She Want A Zesser
Let’s start with a vocabulary lesson. A “zesser” in Trinidadian slang was originally just a cool confident person who wears the hottest expensive brand name clothing and huge excessive jewelry but in recent years has come to be associated with describing a “fully dunce” (uneducated) badman or gangster (urbandictionary.com). In Zesser: The Movie, written and directed by Emmerson “Wiz” George, ghetto youth Roach’s girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant. To earn some bread (cash) he reluctantly becomes a gunman but eventually embraces the zesser lifestyle. In his quest for ill-gotten gains he runs afoul of a relentless cop, a Spanish drug smuggler and an expatriate assassin.
The plot of the film is unsurprisingly formulaic and cliche, while still being unnecessarily complicated. Where it differs from your generic ghetto gangster flick is in its abundant use of narration and its presentation of a heroic cop character (Sgt Snipes). Roach’s ongoing narration is an interesting device though it is bit much at times. And the writer uses the protagonist’s inner thoughts to attempt to make the character more sympathetic but I can’t say I ever cared for Roach, urban charm and bravado notwithstanding. The cop character though, while your run-of-the mill tough-as-nails balls buster, had some good energy and easily the best action scene of the entire film. I think he should get his own spin-off movie.
Shot 2: More Zessing
From watching the film you can tell that a lot of passion and effort went into making it. But you can also tell that not a lot of technical skill nor money went into making it. Firstly many of the main actors are actually music artistes and hence the cast includes Plumpy Boss, Bang Em Smurf and Johnny Bravo (not that Johnny Bravo). This is a double-edged sword because while there is an authenticity that comes with untrained actors the acting is nothing to zess about. And some of the performances are downright cringe-inducing. The choice of actors, however, should appeal to fans of the musical genre but this music is not my cup of tea so I have no idea who any of these people are. The soundtrack was pumping though.
The editing is also not what you would call a master class. The scenes are choppy, the audio of the dialogue is all over the place (when the music is not overpowering it) and there is a gross overuse of the cut to black shot. And you know that “a few moments later” graphic from SpongeBob Squarepants? They use that in this movie. No Mr Director. Just no.
Shot 3: Less Stressing
It is difficult not to compare Zesser to 2014 Trinidad and Tobago gangster action film Welcome to Warlock, which is superior in every aspect and one of the best locally-made films in spite of its minuscule budget. Warlock is much better technically, the plot is tighter and more focused, and the protagonist much more likeable. But this film also shoots down Zesser by comparison because it fully embraces its gritty setting with all the bloody violence, casual sex and gushing rivers of profanity. Sure Zesser has all these things but it always seems to pull back at the last second as though trying to be edgy but not too edgy. You can’t be half-pregnant fellahs. And the version I watched was a semi-censored version which pointlessly kept in half of the profanity. Strangely though both Warlock and Zesser have scenes where male characters track (hit on) women by threatening to kill them. In Zesser Roach tells a girl “I will burn down your house, kill your goldfish, kill your mosquito etc”. Is this an actual thing that happens? Hit me up in the comments if you know because I need to know. Anywho, back to the article.
Where Zesser really misses the mark is in the action sequences. Warlock’s scenes are well blocked, skillfully shot and almost beautiful despite the disturbing subject matter. Zesser’s scenes, other than the aforementioned sequence with Sgt Snipes, are poorly shot with jump cuts that kill any momentum and a lack of squibs, leading to a very bloodless and very amateur-looking affair. Your action movie needs good action. That is just the bare minimum. So while I appreciate the effort from Mr George and crew (more people making more films is always a good thing) I have to say that sadly Zesser is more stressing and less zessing.
Score: 3 out of 10
To check out Zesser yourself you can watch it for free here (if it is not working it may be that too many people are viewing it and you will need to check back later). And for part 2 of 7 Days of Cariwood and my review of Haitian dark comedy thriller Kafou you can click here.
Julien Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. Also loves promoting Caribbean film, creating board games and is an aspiring author. Says things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Can also be found talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.