ter­ri­fies planet

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South African pop cul­ture is no stranger to world dom­i­na­tion. Mod­ern-day saint Nel­son Man­dela is a house­hold name, Trevor Noah’s mixed-race life is about to be­come a Hol­ly­wood movie pro­duced by Lupita Ny­ong’o. Die Ant­wo­ord spread the gospel of zef as they plun­dered the cul­ture of the Cape Flats. And Shaka Zulu, the 1980s TV se­ries, ro­tated so ubiq­ui­tously around the world that a gang of neo-Nazis in Germany were re­ported to have named them­selves The Shaka Zu­lus.

Now it’s the turn of the tokoloshe, the diminu­tive, hairy, mytho­log­i­cal spirit evoked for the pur­poses of evil and most com­monly as­so­ci­ated with sex­ual plun­der. (Just ask the tabloid Daily Sun, which has mas­tered the art of the horny, tw­erk­ing tokoloshe in to­day’s main­stream me­dia.)

But a new South African hor­ror movie The Tokoloshe is no joke. It’s a ter­ri­fy­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller that draws on se­ri­ous cul­tural re­search to tell the story of Busi, a des­ti­tute young hospi­tal cleaner (Petronella Tshuma, Of Good Re­port), who must con­front her demons – man­i­fest as a tokoloshe – to try to save a child. And it’s set to be­come a global hor­ror cir­cuit hit, al­ready pick­ing up pres­ti­gious screen­ings and sig­nif­i­cant dis­tri­bu­tion deals.

The Tokoloshe is the de­but fea­ture film from ac­com­plished di­rec­tor of com­mer­cials Jerome Pik­wane, who has spent 10 years writ­ing the script with nov­el­ist Richard Kun­z­mann.

It’s been se­lected for its world pre­miere at BiFan (The Bucheon In­ter­na­tional Fan­tas­tic Film Fes­ti­val) in South Korea, a coun­try known for its qual­ity films and fa­nat­i­cal hor­ror fans, in three weeks’ time, and from there on to the Fan­ta­sia In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in Canada. It will head home where it has been se­lected to open the Dur­ban In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val (Diff) on July 19 and then it’s on to the pres­ti­gious London FrightFest Film Fes­ti­val in Au­gust.

Pro­duc­ers Dumi Gumbi and Cati Weinek can­not an­nounce all its in­vi­ta­tions, but there are plenty – as well as solid dis­tri­bu­tion deals, par­tic­u­larly in Europe.

“We ended up hir­ing a fes­ti­val strate­gist who tar­geted the in­ter­na­tional hor­ror cir­cuit to find a big enough au­di­ence,” Weinek told City Press this week. “It’s al­ready pick­ing up very nice sales in Asia.”

She em­pha­sised how mas­ter­fully made the film is, with elab­o­rate com­puter-gen­er­ated im­agery and a re­lent­less score to up the ter­ror.

“The tokoloshe means dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple and dif­fer­ent cul­tures,” said Pik­wane. “So we had to cre­ate our own mythol­ogy for it from our re­search.”

What may give some view­ers as big a fright as the tokoloshe is that he re­gards his crea­ture fea­ture as a fem­i­nist project.

“The film ex­plores pa­tri­archy,” said Pik­wane, who was born in Kim­ber­ley, raised in Joburg and stud­ied film in New York. In his film, Busi must deal with her own child­hood abuse to con­quer the crea­ture. “Hor­ror films can be a cat­a­lyst to deal with ills in our so­ci­ety. Jaws took on Nixon, Get Out took on race re­la­tions in Amer­ica, and The Tokoloshe rep­re­sents the sys­temic abuse and op­pres­sion of women by mas­culin­ity. The black woman, in par­tic­u­lar, is the most marginalised sec­tor of our so­ci­ety,” said Pik­wane.

Not ev­ery­one is de­lighted that The Tokoloshe is the open­ing film in Dur­ban, es­pe­cially af­ter last year’s open­ing film was also a hor­ror – Ser­pent – and a bit of a flop, so­lic­it­ing the least ap­plause wit­nessed at the coun­try’s old­est film fes­ti­val.

But Diff man­ager Chipo Zhou de­fended her choice: “Hav­ing grown up in a tra­di­tional African house­hold, with vis­its to the ru­ral home­stead, the story of the tokoloshe, our very own bo­gey­man if you will, is all too fa­mil­iar. The film is not quite what I ex­pected from its ti­tle and I dare au­di­ences to see be­neath the sur­face. It is a hor­ror film, crafted so in­tri­cately, un­veil­ing the men­ace that is our ev­ery­day bur­den as womxn in this coun­try. It de­picts the story of sur­vivor, not vic­tim. How is it to be sane, af­ter such or­deals, which is sadly an all-too-nor­mal South African ex­pe­ri­ence.”

A few years ago an­other tokoloshe film Blood Tokoloshe played at Diff, scor­ing a home run with town­ship au­di­ences and stun­ning hor­ror af­fi­ciona­dos who had not seen blood be­ing drunk from a cal­abash be­fore. Only South Africa, land of zef and hunky Shakas, could un­leash blood-drink­ing fem­i­nist tokoloshes to ter­rify the planet.

Busi, played by Petronella Tshuma, must con­front the tokoloshe in a hospi­tal


PAS­SION PROJECT The Tokoloshe’s di­rec­tor, Jerome Pik­wane, has been work­ing on the script for a decade

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