The Afrikaans film, Griekwastad has seen more than 50 000 digital rentals so far on DStv's BoxOffice.
Griekwastad, a locally-produced South African film meant for the big screen, had to forego its red carpet premiere and the usual press tour to instead make its debut on the small screen on 5 May due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It's the first local film to open directly on the pay-per-view window that is usually reserved for films after they've completed their theatrical run at cinemas.
The result has been astounding.
Available exclusively on DStv BoxOffice online and on DStv PVRs, Griekwastad is based on the best-selling book by veteran journalist Jacques Steenkamp, directed by Jozua Malherbe and stars Arnold Vosloo and Rolanda Marais.
The film centres on the story about the horrific murders on the Naauwhoek farm in the Northern Cape in April 2012.
The 50 000 rentals and counting is even more spectacular for Griekwastad keeping in mind that it has an 18SVNL age restriction. The higher the rating, the more limited the potential audience of a movie.
Secondly, dark subject matter like crime thrillers, especially based on gruesome real-life events, lure fewer moviegoers than comedies, romcoms or adventure films.
"Griekwastad has been rented more than 50 000 times," Tim Theron, who plays Jacques Steenkamp in the film, tells Channel24.
Tim is one of the film's producers through the SCENE23 production company, together with Deon Meyer, Cobus van den Berg and Tracey Lange.
"There is no way to know how many people actually watched the film when rented, but it's safe to assume that in most cases it would have been more than one person, which would put the film somewhere close to, or just over, 100 000 in terms of people that watched it," he says.
"We're extremely thankful for the support and overwhelmingly positive reaction to the film," says Tim, explaining how Griekwastad had to adapt its film release.
"When we decided to release the film digitally on DStv BoxOffice, we changed our entire marketing approach to digital and social media, with support from kykNET/M-Net and DStv BoxOffice on their channels – and it seems to have worked, despite the film not having a cinema window.
"It wouldn't have helped at all though if we didn't have the extremely positive word-of-mouth which is still the best marketing tool out there."
About the already-incredible numbers, he says, "this is definitely not a record yet". "We're pretty sure there have been films on DStv BoxOffice that have had more rentals. So, we'll have to see once the rental period ends.
"The movie was made for the big screen – the way it was shot, the way the music and score were mixed, so we would definitely have loved for people to be able to enjoy and watch this film in a cinema.
"The one advantage for the viewer is definitely that this allows you to watch a film with a more serious, and somewhat upsetting subject matter, in the comfort of your own home," he says.
"We think and believe the reason people gravitate towards Griekwastad is the same reason the actual case was able to grab the attention of the whole country – everyone wants to know the answer to one question: Why? Why did this happen? Why did a teenage boy kill his entire family?"
"We don't try and answer this question in the film, but what we do show is the journey of everyone, especially our police detective, that was pulled into this tragic event and had to try and make sense of it."
POSITIVE MUST-WATCH BUZZ
While Griekwastad had a blue carpet premiere last year at kykNET's 2019 Silwerskermfees with Arnold Vosloo who jetted to South Africa from Los Angeles, Covid-19 prevented a red carpet premiere in 2020 as Ster-Kinekor, Nu Metro and independent theatres all closed due to the national lockdown.
"The film would have had a red carpet première with its cinema release, and one of the major disappointments of that not happening, was that Arnold Vosloo couldn't come back out to South Africa to celebrate the release with the rest of the team," says Tim.
"Not having a cinema release has also meant that the film loses out on a major potential income stream, which is a massive blow to any South African film.
"We would need the film to do about double the rentals it has done so far to really lessen that blow, so we're all holding our breath to see what happens in the next few weeks and if the film can keep its momentum. So far, so good!"
He says that so far the word-of-mouth buzz around Griekwastad as a must-watch film has been amazing.
"During the first few days of the release on DStv BoxOffice we had some amazingly positive reviews come out for the movie, and then we had the first buzz of people posting on social media about what they thought.
"This was similar to the opening weekend in a cinema release and was crucial to the film reaching 10 000 rentals within the first few days. Obviously releasing during the lockdown, when our audience was looking for entertainment and content to watch, also helped a lot.
"The lockdown was actually one of the main reasons we decided to take the chance on releasing digitally. Not only because the cinemas were closed, but because we knew we had a captive audience looking for content."
He says that "one of the things we're most happy about when it comes to people's reaction to the film, is that so many have highlighted the sensitivity with which the story was handled".
"We never set out to make a gory, exploitative and sensationalist film, preying on the emotions surrounding the tragedy, and it's good to see that people are noticing that. The film is about one man, our police detective, and his journey into the depths of this tragedy to not only make sense of it, but also find the truth about what happened on that night."
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: