‘The fear is real’
Tokoloshe: An African Curse is a 2020 South African horror film about a demon that haunts people’s dreams and possesses them to commit evil acts. It is also known as Tokoloshe: The Calling
Directed by Richard Green from a screenplay co-written with Arish Sirkissoon, the LX Seth production stars Angela Balkovic, Rubendra Govender, Sanjay Laljith and Lloyd Grant O’Connor.
Arish Vema (Arish Sirkissoon), a successful writer and media personality, takes his new, designer family to an abandoned hotel in the Transkei to finish his much-anticipated follow-up novel. He is accompanied by his white wife Angela and their adopted Zulu daughter, Ntombi.
At the hotel, strange things start to happen which leave the family at a loss. It is revealed that the hotel has a dark past in which many murders were carried out since its establishment in 1808. There are rumours that this evil stems from the land being cursed since it was stolen from its native people. The hotel contains an ominous door that the family are afraid to enter.
Meanwhile, in a city nearby, Thembi, a high school teacher, is experiencing strange visions and dreams which link her back to a gruesome past at the same hotel. Something seems to be “calling” her back to the hotel for unfinished business. She seeks the professional help of Doctor Richards a well-known psychologist…
Cross-cultural cross-pollination being what it is, I suppose the prospect of a peculiarly South African spin on Stanley Kubrick’s version of Stephen King’s The Shining might raise some interested eyebrows. However, that’s about it.
Filmmaker Richard Green’s overlong opening title informs us a vast hotel in South Africa was built over sacred tribal land, resulting in a curse that has kept a generation of ghost-victims stuck in the place, and a “cryptozoologist” (!?) is investigating. He interviews Thembi, a college instructor with traumatic, semi-amnesiac childhood memories of her family traumatized by the curse (a “tokoloshe”) and she undergoes hypnotic regression to relate what happened.
We see a popular author (the film’s co-scripter, Arish Sirkissoon, in the Jack Nicholson part) arrive at the hotel with his blonde white wife (Angela Balkovic) and adopted Zulu daughter Ntombi (Lwandile Xaba). Sure enough, rather than working on his latest book, the father is beguiled and spellbound by the hotel’s lingering undead (a ghostly barkeep will seem especially familiar).
Little Danny Torrence- ahem, I mean Ntombi – senses menace and evil right away, leading to some most Kubrickian bicycle-riding in the spacious hallways. Wisely, Green does not try to pull off any gore or lavish special effects on the order of King’s infamous “hedge animals” (Stanley Kubrick shunned that one too), though a monstrous primate-type visage is glimpsed from time to time.
It isn’t that that filmmakers can’t set up a neat eerie moment or two. They can, but literally are too impatient to space them out, springing all the tricky stuff early on: disappearing figures, malevolent voices, and spooky visuals revealed in reverse-angles and reflective surfaces for many of the scenes, with little breathing space.
There is a potentially head-spinning M. Night Shyamalan-esque narrative twist that would have been grand under other circumstances. Unfortunately, here with a short-feature run time, each sequence aspiring to be a gimmick edit or gotcha! moment, it becomes just one of many darts flung at your eyeballs.
The locations are postcard-majestic, and the spectrum of Boer and Bantu faces just beg for a neat story to go along with them… Well, imagine some expensive Hollywood outfit deciding to do another version of Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country but set it all in Los Angeles with glamorous Anglo matinee idols instead of the Rift Valley with Africans and Afrikaaners. Something is bound to be lost in translation.
Charles Cassady Jr, MOVIES and MANIA
“The film is shot in a very confusing style that seems to jump around randomly in time. There are also seemly random shots of people and items. Once it’s explained it makes sense and also reminded me of The Shining […] But overall it’s just slow-moving and derivative.” Voices from the Balcony
Tokoloshe: An African Curse was released on Amazon Prime USA on February 14, 2020.
Cast and characters:
Angela Balkovic … Angelina Verma
Rubendra Govender … Mr Shetty
Lloyd Grant O’Connor … Lloyd O Hara
Neerusha Oogorah … Mrs Shetty
Shezi Sibongiseni … Thembi
Arish Sirkissoon … Arish Verma
Roelof Twijnstra … Mr Kurts
Lwandile Xaba … Ntombi Verma
Durban, South Africa
The Tokoloshe (2018)