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The Tokoloshe Movie Review

Written by Simret Cheema-Innis

Directed by Jerome Pikwane
Written by Richard Kunzmann and Jerome Pikwane
2018, 92 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest European Premiere on 25th August 2018

Petronella Tshuma as Busi
Kwande Nkosi as Gracie
Dawid Minnaar as Ruatomin
Harriet Manamela as Ma Zondi
Mandla Shongwe as Baba Zondi

the tokoloshe poster


Psychological horrorThe Tokoloshe, Jerome Pikwane’s debut, is set to leave audiences reflecting thereafter on not only the socio-political aspects the film presents, but the fact that lurking inside us all could be a Tokoloshe.

Just as mysterious as the title, a Tokoloshe is part of South African Zulu folklore surrounding a hairy spirit monster who in some cases can be conjured up as a curse.

Pikwane’s story follows a young girl who leaves her rural village in search of work in the city. Desperate and hanging on to the last threads of survival, Busi takes a night job as a hospital cleaner.

While there, she experiences many strange occurrences and even suffers an attempted rape by her unsavoury boss literally a night into her assignment. Realising that she doesn’t have any choice, she returns again begging for her job.

the tokoloshe 01

The next night, Busi comes across a young girl in the children’s ward who’s incredibly disturbed and covered in bruises and scratches. Busi is clearly affected by the girl’s distress as if it revives something familiar in her consciousness leading her to rescue the girl from evident abuse occurring at the hospital. But saving the young girl opens up a can of worms for Busi as she’s forced to return to her village and face her past again.

The Tokoloshe survives on social realism themes alone. Pikwane foreshadows facts about the abuse amongst women in South Africa and how it mainly happens within families. And this is on point. I remember working in Soweto in Johannesberg back in 2009 and a colleague explained to me the fear amongst many young women because they were being raped and abused by their fathers. At the time I was there, I was told about the rising suicide rate amongst young girls in the townships. There was also the increasingly common issue of HIV being passed by fathers to their daughters. In fact, in the orphanage I worked in, there were many babies born from incest that were being dumped. Some of those children later became AIDs orphans.

the tokoloshe 02

There's a scene where a blind man, who makes tribal spirit-masks, comments on why Busi has come to this ‘godforsaken city?’ From experience and word of mouth, the City District AKA Downtown isn’t a place anyone would want to be, despite its western and progressive allure. In reality, it’s a dark, dangerous Gotham, where each second in the city is risking your mortality. Pikwane portrays this stark reality so unforgivingly, the city scenes alone are the most terrifying. Busi’s constant battle to save herself from people and men especially demonstrates just how dangerous a place Johannesburg can be for a woman and it’s ruled by a toxic masculinity. It appears nothing has changed.

Although Busi’s unravelling trauma throughout the movie makes for some agonising viewing, there is a sense that the actual link between the spirit-creature Tokoloshe isn’t too consistent with the psychosis Busi experiences. There’s moments where we’re led to flashbacks with Busi and her sister. We know that something bad has happened and that the suffering still exists, but the monster is underplayed and the link between Busi, her sister and the creature is unclear.

the tokoloshe 03

The metaphor for trauma through a post-traumatic-stress-conjured creature is a fantastic allegory for sexual abuse-based repression, but could’ve been delved into further by the cultural and mythological significance of the creature from a folklore standpoint. Pikwane has explained in another interview that the Tokoloshe means different things to people in different cultures, which is why he created his own mythology. However, audiences may still find the mythological values slightly vague.

This aside, the film almost doesn't need the Tokoloshe demon because it is overshadowed by the psychological torment Busi experiences from the abuse and the terror of the city and its inhabitants.

Pikwane has however made a fairly unique movie. I can’t recall a film where a monster/creature is the embodiment of a repressed memory borne from sexual abuse. If there are movies out there about this, then I don’t believe there are many.


Movie: 4 Star Rating Cover
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About The Author
Simret Cheema-Innis
Staff Reviewer - UK
Simret, also known as Wickergirl, is a blogger/film maker from London. Her salubrious taste for horror started at the tender age of 8 years old, dressing her siblings up as goblins and vampires and devising dream worlds during playtime.
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