Kobby shows up late — very, very late — to his nephew’s baptism and naming ceremony. Called an “outdooring” in Ghana, it’s an important, lavish family affair and a major event in a community, celebrating the birth of a child as a gift to the parents and larger society.
But Kobby has motives beyond spending quality time. He plans to steal the money donated by the family to his newborn nephew at the outdooring, and use it to run away. But his scheme becomes more complicated to pull off than he thinks.
Writer-director Maxwell Addae’s short drama has the initial trappings of a crime drama, with its tense, furtive exchanges and its dark, shadowy visuals. Its energy is driven by its main character’s internal need for the money, and audience interest is pulled along by the question of whether or not he will go through with — or pull off — the betrayal of his family’s trust and love.
The accomplished craftsmanship shapes the film much like a 70s heist, with taut yet observant editing, dynamic camerawork and judicious yet propulsive use of music and score. It pulls audiences along both through sheer energy and storytelling suspense, with a solid balance of visual looseness and narrative tension that is reminiscent of the great 70s films of Scorsese, with their mix of bold craft and personal ethos.
Within this decidedly heightened film grammar, Addae’s storytelling layers in rich character work and relatable portrayals of family and culture. Structurally as a narrative, what works so well is that Kobby has a deep secret he’s hiding about himself from his family, and as he gets deeper into his plan, we as viewers also go deeper into his family and culture, and how his personal secret intersects with these.
The surprises are not machinations of plot, but revelations of character, making them all the more satisfying as a driver of plot and narrative. Actor Keith Machekanyanga’s performance offers understated compassion and sensitivity in portraying an essentially divided, hidden character: what he does may be fundamentally wrong, but the narrative patiently builds in our understanding for Kobby and the forces he faces within his family and community — which makes his final actions all the more desperate and yet heartbreakingly understandable.
A world premiere at SXSW and a multiple award winner on its festival run, “Outdooring” is a rarity: a character-driven drama thriller that feels personal and vulnerable, and whose stakes feel intimate yet urgent. Thrillers can be engrossing simply through sheer force of craftsmanship and narrative ingenuity, but by tethering the tension to a deep, internal character dilemma, it makes for an initially quieter, more understated — but no less powerful — story. Its final scene, though, is a gripping explosion of tension and emotion, but it completes Kobby’s arc — not in the way he initially envisioned, but in the way that was needed for himself and the family he comes from. It ends on something of a cliffhanger, but also a powerful step forward out of the darkness.