Film Review: “The Tokoloshe”

  • Starring: Petronella Tshuma, Kwande Nkosi and Dawid Minnaar
  • Directed by: Jerome Pikwane
  • Rated: Not Rated
  • Running time: 1 hr 32 mins
  • Uncork’d Entertainment

Review by Becki Reiner

Director Jerome Pikwane’s debut feature film, “The Tokoloshe,” explores South African mythology and real-life terror residing parallel to patriarchal rule. Busi (Tshuma), in her escape from a scarred upbringing of poverty and abuse, has come to Johannesburg and is forced to take a job cleaning at a rundown hospital managed by a sexual predator. The persistent grime and shadowy barren corridors alone thrusts audiences into immediate anxiety and familiarity with Busi’s crawl through her hostile universe. Stacked atop her personal present and repressed traumas, Busi connects with a young female patient who has suffered her own experiences with abuse. The young girl shares her fears of the Tokoloshe, a frequently utilized South African folklore creature who is terrorizing the hospital wings.      

The creature, rarely seen in the film, is eventually revealed in a form that will surely feel familiar to horror fans but surprisingly not out of place. The journey to unmasking the Tokoloshe’s true form is filled with multiple sequences of gorgeously frightening atmosphere, a bedroom entity assault that will instinctively pull you back to your childhood nightmares (and lovingly lend a nod to “A Nightmare on Elm Street”), and an intelligently character-led march into terror that genuinely trusts the audience to submerge themselves in a supernatural pursuit instead of insulting them with superficial modern Hollywood jump-scares.      

Pikwane’s “The Tokoloshe” serves as a needed depiction of the most marginalized of humanity suffering at the hands of society and Ms. Tshuma, as Busi, easily wins the film and carries the story as a refreshingly non-traditional final girl with her dynamic presence and fearless, maternal heroics. “The Tokoloshe” is a promising first feature that is a strong hybrid of uniquely South African folklore and generational notable terror. It squelches the notion of “tribal” or “urban” legends, as the underlying monster here transcends boundaries that will make you itch to shelve the copies of your favorite familiar suburban horrors and explore other regionally specific storytelling and monsters from all the darkest corners of the globe.

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