Julien Neaves, Caribbean Head Writer
Plot: A young woman repatriates from Canada back to Trinidad to live with her strict aunt in a sleepy coastal village. But there is much under the surface as she encounters romance, prejudice, and supernatural forces both light and dark.
Review: I have been meaning to watch this 2017 Trinidad and Tobago fantasy drama for years but just never got a chance. I didn’t know much about it but the trailer and stills looked interesting. And it’s a TT feature film so you know I HAVE to check it out. But like two ships passing in the night we just kept missing each other. Well, thanks to the good folks at Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival and their recently concluded “Watch a Movie On Us” series I was finally able to check it out. And I am happy to report that Moko Jumbie is one of the best features I have seen from my homeland.
I went into this film relatively blind and that is how I recommend watching it. Like an onion layer after layer is peeled back and the viewer is drawn in deeper and deeper into a world of magic and mysticism. Things start off relatively normal. We meet Asha (played by actress Vanna Vee Girod, who tragically died two months ago) as she returns home to Trinidad after living for years in Canada. She is described as a “goth girl” in some of the film descriptions but other than the occasional goth-esque makeup that’s about it. I got none of the attitude or persona usually associated with the lifestyle.
No, Asha is a sweet, beautiful, somewhat naïve young woman who is trying to find a place to anchor herself. And Girod plays her with a charm and likeability that makes it easy to root for her during her strange journey. We never learn why she left Canada, which bothered me at first. But as the film progressed I realised that it was less about who she was and more about what she represents. I could get into that but I’m keeping this review spoiler free so I’ll leave it right there.
Asha returns to live with her stern Aunt Mary (Sharda Maharaj) and reunites with her amiable fisherman uncle Jagessar (Dino Maharaj). Both are two of the older actors in the film and give the strongest performances. Mary could have been your typical, fussy, inflexible parental figure but Sharda Maharaj invests her with an air of concern and brokenness that makes her a more rounded character. Dino Maharaj is a hoot as Jagessar, a wise and wisecracking character that truly lights up the screen. Rounding off the main cast is Jeremy Thomas as Roger, Asha’s new neighbour and love interest who lives in a broken down house with his troubled family. Thomas is okay and he and Girod have a believable chemistry, but I can’t say I was blown away by his performance.
Now if you’re from the Caribbean (or familiar with the region) you may be predicting where the story is going. Indo-Trinidadian girl falls in love with Afro-Trinidadian boy and their star-crossed romance is tested by their racist guardians/parents and a divided society. Well, dear Red Mango Reader, you would be wrong. Sure, there are shades of this, but Moko Jumbie’s story is much deeper and concerned with much more complex cultural and historical themes. I’m not going to give anything away but you will notice the sea is a recurring motif and becomes a symbol of connection and disconnection. I will say no more.
And at this point some of our non-Caribbean readers may be wondering what the heck a “moko jumbie” is. I’ll save you a Google search and tell you that a moko jumbie is a traditional character of the Trinidad and Tobago annual festival Carnival. Derived from West African tradition, moko jumbies stand head and shoulders above other Carnival characters (literally)) as the performers walk and dance on stilts. What they wear varies from plain clothes to elaborate costumes. And to my surprise Moko Jumbie features an actual moko jumbie, and he is one terrifying creature. He is just one of a few otherworldly beings Asha encounters, and at times the film veers into the territory of supernatural thriller. And as a lover of fantasy and Caribbean folklore I really dug that.
The supernatural aspects lends to some of the films most striking visuals, the gorgeous cinematography combining with haunting music to craft an enthralling experience. Now writer/director Vashti Anderson’s film is not perfect and has about one or two subplots too many,. But she has crafted a beautiful, thoughtful and resonant film that stands heads and shoulders over many in the region and even further beyond these shores.
Editor Jules’s Score: 7 out of 10
So have you seen Moko Jumbie? What did you think of it? And you can check out more great supernatural TT content below:
Julien “Editor Jules” 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. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.