WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
In 2012, Deon Steenkamp was murdered along with his wife Christel and their teenage daughter Marthella on their farm Naauwhoek. Griekwastad, based on the bestselling book by Jacques Steenkamp, tells the tale of the search to find the truth around these murders, however difficult and upsetting it may be.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
In 2012, the small farming community of Griekwastad in the Northern Cape was rocked by the murder of a farmer, his wife and daughter, his teenage son Don Steenkamp the sole survivor of the attack. However, the investigation soon revealed that Don was the murderer, and the case got thrown into the national spotlight.
Griekwastad is based on the book written by journalist Jacques Steenkamp who covered the case, and while dramatised focusing on the detective who covered the case and Don, it’s one of those films that feels too real for comfort. While it will thrill true crime fans, it might just be too close to home to watch as detached as others.
This film will not be an easy watch - and I do wonder how those close to the case might feel about this silver screen adaptation. Don is currently serving his 20-year sentence for the crimes he committed at 15-years-old, while still trying to appeal his sentence. However you might feel about the case, director Jozua Malherbe (Wolwedans in die Skemer, Donkerland, Openbarings) takes quite a tactful approach to the subject matter, interspersing the film with interviews of real Griekwastad residents, providing authenticity. It’s not too sensationalised, yet there are dramatised scenes that can be upsetting, including the rape of Don’s sister and the murders.
Griekwastad isn’t exactly a documentary - it’s an in-depth profile of the detective struggling to come to terms with the evidence presented to him, and a look at what would drive a boy to commit such a horrible act. While they paint a jarring picture of Don, they still leave a lot of questions up in the air, further prompted by an eery but stellar performance by teenager Alex van Dyk, who rose to prominence with his role in Die Stropers. Despite his quiet demeanour in the film, he maintains a deadly stare that feels like it could go right into your soul, and held his own in the scenes he shared with acting stalwart Arnold Vosloo.
This is Vosloo’s first Afrikaans film in decades and not a bad choice for making his step back into local productions. In an interview, he said that he had notes from the real detective to help craft his character, a sketch of what happens to a stoic man faced with an unimaginable truth. But Vosloo’s true gift is that you don’t see him when watching the movie - you might not even completely notice it’s him. He’s always been good at blending into his role, whereas sometimes you watch a movie and see the actor before the character.
As for the production, I like the non-linear style of telling the story. Most South Africans know the real story to some degree at least, so the chronology is easy enough to follow. It gives the sense that you’re in the mind of the characters as they think back to previous times, as well as a representation of the investigation as the detective pieces the story together. A great and well-researched script from Tertius Kapp, who previously adapted the book Dis Ek, Anna and wrote the horror Rage, coupled with a raw cinematic style that will leave you chilled to the bone.
But Griekwastad is not the kind of film you put on as something to pass the time on a Friday night. It asks its audience to engage with its subject matter, as well as place themselves psychologically in the shoes of a murderer and rapist. You’re going to have to steel yourselves for this one, but it is a story that should be told.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE