Horror fans may or may not be familiar with the Tokoloshe, an evil South African spirit who targets small children. While the creepy run-down hospital setting of Jerome Pikwane’s debut feature is much more familiar ground (and proves to be as unsettling as ever), this is a film about repressed trauma and the powerful preying on the vulnerable.
Pikwane and co-writer Richard Kunzmann set their cards out early, as (after a brief spooky prologue) the film begins with a radio commentator discussing the “health hazard” of immigrants in Johannesburg, our heroine Busi (Petronella Tshuma) walking down a corridor being catcalled by men, and finally being interviewed for a job by a man who tells her he’s giving her the job even though he doesn’t want to because “you’re all just trouble.” While there are plenty of unsettling moments throughout, it’s the overwhelming sense of oppression that will stay with you after the film is over.
Busi has taken a job as a hospital cleaner having run away from her village, but she’s desperately trying to reach the sister she left behind. As she fights the memories of exactly what happens, she realizes that there’s a malicious spirit here too, targeting the orphan children who have no one to look out for them. Perhaps it came here with her…
The creepy hospital sequences are very well done, and the Tokoloshe makes for a genuinely sinister unseen presence. Pikwane conjures a real sense of isolation, and he’s helped by an excellent central performance from Tshuma, who manages to make Busi more than her fears and obviously traumatic past as she begins to fight against mounting horrors, both supernatural and not. The film could have benefited from a little more character development, but the filmmakers hold the bulk of the revelations back until the impressive climax and it pays off nicely.
The Tokoloshe is a scary and sensitive horror and a very impressive first feature. Pikwane is definitely one to watch.
The Tokoloshe was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2018.