This South African horror film feels a little like an attempt to follow the example of Under the Shadow – again, a woman in a society set up to give her a hard time is harried by a local demon which represents a particular stripe of oppression, and fights back in order to protect a child. There’s even a good scare sequence involving a shape under a blanket. However, the milieu of contemporary South Africa is fresh ground for horror – and even if the creature that shows up at the end represents a slightly overfamiliar monstrousness, it’s an impressively unpleasant design (and not shown too much, though it resembles a slimier Pumpkinhead) and an imaginative depiction of an African myth about a child-snatching demon (there are a few other tokoloshe movies about, mostly shorts).
Busi (Petronella Tshuma) lands a job as a night cleaner at an understaffed, surprisingly quiet, creepily cavernous Johannesburg hospital, intent on earning enough money to bring her ‘sister’ (who is probably her daughter, too) to the city and away from her abusive father (Mandla Shongwe). She has to fend off her creepy white supervisor (Dawid Minaar), who feels he has exploitation rights over the female staff, but still needs to come in to work after she’s nearly bitten off his nose while he was trying to rape her – he docks her pay because of the uniform he says she tore – and is drawn to Gracie (Kwande Nkosi), a girl who is afraid of the tokoloshe she says is stalking the hospital. It draws as much on classic (even cliché) horror film licks as on African lore – with a blind seer (Yule Masiteng) who helps the heroine with exact change on the bus turning out to be a fount of handy foreknowledge – he gives her precisely the thing she needs in the climax, along with a mask he has made that serves as a magic weapon.
Two-thirds of the way through the film, Busi and Gracie quit the city – and subtitled Zulu edges out English as the language – and return to her country home, where the literalised evil stalks through dark fields and the spirits of stolen children linger in a sinister hut. Director Jerome Pikwane – who co-wrote with Richard Kunzmann – uses the form of a fairly standard it’s-coming-to-get-you horror film, with a franchise-friendly fiend and a resourceful final girl, but also delivers a specifically South African fable, straddling urban and tribal legends.
Here’s the FrightFest listing.
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