By Farayi Mungoshi
2018 was a good year for the film industry in Zimbabwe.
Over 20 films were produced, a feat never achieved before in Zimbabwe and, for that, I believe film-makers deserve to be applauded for a sterling job.
Despite the passion and eagerness to produce our own films, funding remains a challenge and film-makers continue to struggle to make ends meet, but they have not given up.
Of all the local films I watched in 2018, I must say Charles Mawungwa’s Mind Games tops the list.
It has a well written script with suspense. It is unpredictable, with twists and turns at the right points.
It has already won four awards, two at the Zimbabwe International Film Festival, one at the Calcutta International Cult Film Festival and another at the Five Continents Film Festival.
Mawungwa is arguably one of the best storytellers in Zimbabwe at the moment.
He is definitely not the kind of director you would want to go up against at the NAMA awards, or any other awards for that matter, as he is not a stranger to notching gongs.
In 2006, he won Best Short Film Award for The Search, and went on to scoop another for Fading Pictures and Mind Games (the Short Film).
Mawungwa is definitely a name to look out for in so far as Zimbabwe film-making is concerned.
I say so because his style is unique.
He reminds me a lot of Hollywood film director Quentin Tarantino.
At first I could not pinpoint Mawungwa’s style of directing. It was not until I saw the trailer to his other film, Ghosts of Actions Past, that it suddenly hit me.
The film has long, winding dialogues that are followed by crazy, mind blowing action, which, if badly executed, can signal the death of any storyteller.
But this is where Mawungwa’s strength lies, and that makes him different from every other Zimbabwean film director I have met.
I found the beginning of Mind Games a bit too slow for my liking and certainly not to my taste as a series of killings takes centre stage, giving us the feel that a serial killer is on the loose, but like in the old Hollywood movies, the director craftily conceals the identity of the serial killer.
I personally do not like horror films and that is exactly where I felt Mind Games was taking me, but boy oh boy, was I wrong as the film unravels with such poise!
After each kill, the murderer burns a candle and leaves it burning at the crime scene.
We are then introduced to the main character, Sam, a role played by Dax Jackson.
Sam is divorced and runs a real estate company which he inherited from his uncle.
He heads the company while his cousin (his uncle’s son) works in a much lower position.
All hell breaks loose when Sam arrives at work one day and finds out that his daughter had been kidnapped by a psychopath, Ex, played by Kevin Hanssen.
Ex toys around with Sam’s mind for a bit without revealing what he wants.
Ex tells Sam that his daughter is in one of the rooms in the building, along with a bomb and that he must find her before the bomb goes off.
Sam tries frantically to find his daughter before a bomb explodes, but he is too late, the bomb explodes before he can find her.
Distraught and confused, Sam picks himself up from the explosion only to find out that Ex was messing around with him and that he was not in the business of hurting little girls.
The game continues, but Ex won’t reveal why he is after Sam. Later on, Ex reveals that he was out to get Sam to avenge the pain Sam’s company caused many people when they took a bribe and allowed people to settle in a prohibited area.
Later on when the truth comes out, the authorities order the demolition of houses in that area.
Ex kills Sam’s cousin as part of his revenge plot and demands Sam gives him some cash or else he will make Sam’s daughter and ex-wife suffer for it.
By now, as part of the audience, I am thinking Ex is the serial killer we saw at the beginning.
In his sick, twisted way of avenging, Ex takes Sam down memory-lane, asking how Sam’s son died.
Ex is out to break Sam, and is doing a good job of it as Sam seems helpless and I am beginning to question how it will all end.
Ex finally invites Sam for a drink of wine.
Sam agrees. Aware that his drink has been poisoned he plays along and fakes his death.
Ex, who all along has been playing his role with a different tone of voice and acting crazy all the time, suddenly becomes serious and in a twist of events we discover that Ex is a hired assassin, brought in by Sam’s cousin and that he really is not dead.
Instead, Sam’s cousin was bitter that his own father had left Sam the company which he felt was rightfully his.
However, Sam manages to outsmart Ex and turns the tables on Ex by faking dying as well and attacking Ex when he least suspects it.
Ex is impressed by Sam’s move and ends up asking how Sam realised that he was being played.
The conversation that follows reveals to us that Sam was actually the ‘candlelight killer’ we see at the beginning of the movie – and that the people we see getting killed in the opening sequence were actually involved one way or another in the death of his son Josh.
One wonders what film-makers have in store for us in 2019 given the high pitch set last year.