Tshamano Sebe in '8.'
Tshamano Sebe in '8.'
Photo: Netflix






3/5 Stars


After inheriting his estranged father's countryside home, a man hires a mysterious farmhand with a demonic secret that draws his family closer to death.


As a horror fan, 2020 has been an exciting year for the genre in the local industry. With Rage and Parable hitting Showmax earlier this year, we are now getting a third South African horror onto the streaming giant Netflix.

Whereas the previous two replicated more Western ideas of pagan rituals and Satanic possession, 8 instead incorporates African spirituality, mythos and beliefs into its universe - something I've been waiting for for a long time. It's a topic that local filmmakers are hesitant to tackle in mainstream cinema. When you know that the lead antagonist is played by an actor with real sangoma training, it adds an authenticity to the whole story.

The movie takes place in 1970s South Africa - a man moves his family to his childhood home on a farm he inherited from his estranged father. A stranger named Lazarus offers to help out on the farm, but he has dark intentions brewing in his bag of evil secrets.

Lazarus, played by Tshamano Sebe, is not a straightforward villain - he's a man who chose an evil path, a demon manipulating him through his grief, yet his conscience is tortured by those he's killed. He has a powerful presence in the movie, yet a gentleness when interacting with Mary - the orphaned niece of the couple at odds with their living situation. They have a great dynamic between them, despite knowing his intentions with her, but you keep watching to find out if his last shred of humanity can win out against evil at the end of the day.

While the overall acting and cinematography in the film is superb, it, unfortunately, starts falling apart with the story. While slow at times, it's apparent that a lot was cut in the editing room for the sake of time. The audience is left with just a bit too many plotholes that can't be overlooked. Mary says her parents died in front of her - but we never find out more than that. There's some allusion to her uncle's strained relationship with the deceased grandfather, but again it's never explored further. The details of the deal between Lazarus and the demon is never entirely clear, as well as the full story behind his daughter's death and why the demon is so fixated on Mary. I understand a filmmaker shouldn't have to spell everything out, but you can't leave your audience completely in the dark - even in horror.

Secondly, they didn't take it far enough. The scare-factor was limited, and too much was revealed right at the beginning, giving no space for tension to build. The concept of the demon in the bag was quite a unique trope, but they could have done so much more - have someone lose an arm to the bag, pull someone into the bag or just amping up the gore somehow. We also see way too quickly the contents of the bag, and they could have left that reveal for later in the film. They focused so much on the drama and emotions of it all; they forgot about doing justice to the genre.

Lastly, it was set in the 1970s. During apartheid. I'm not saying all South African movies in this time has to address race, but it's not even mentioned once in the film, except for maybe the few scenes of a white woman scared of a black man for no reason. Or when the white guy gets out his gun just because the villagers started getting a little loud in a language he doesn't speak. But it's never properly tackled head-on, and I feel this genre is such a great avenue to explore racial issues - as Jordan Peele has proven with Get Out. South Africans are ready for a horror that addresses racial themes, and I hope someone is brave enough to take it on eventually.

Despite its limitations, the concept is a fascinating one with a good twist at the end - making for an entertaining watch while supporting local on an international platform. While I didn't find it all that scary, some viewers might. 


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