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Lea Vivier in Dam.
Lea Vivier in Dam.
Photo: Showmax






3/5 Stars


In this chilling psychological thriller, Yola returns to the Eastern Cape farmhouse of her childhood after her father's death. Spirits in the house start tormenting her. Or is the haunting only in her head?


Have you ever watched something incredibly unnerving and creepy, but you can't get yourself to look away? That sums up what it's like to watch Dam - a psychological rollercoaster that's more of a horror than a thriller. It's Showmax's latest original offering which is set in the beautiful Amathole District of the Eastern Cape. It revolves around a small farming community hat grieves the death of their town leader.

His favourite daughter, Yola (Lea Vivier), is forced to return home for the funeral and the execution of his will, while the other daughter, Sienna (Natasha Loring), resents her sister's abandonment and lack of contact over the years. After the funeral, family secrets start dripping through the cracks - literally - as Yola also navigates a tempestuous relationship with out-of-towner Themba (Pallance Dladla).

Dam is an ambitious South African series. It tackles the kind of genre that's still somewhat in its fledgling phase in the local industry. It weaves Khoisan legends, Xhosa spirituality and white settler heritage into a South African-focused mythology that stands out from more Western representations of the supernatural. While it markets itself as a psychological thriller, it has heavier horror elements that are bloodcurdling on a primal level, similar to films like Hereditary and Midsommar.

Some moments scared the living daylights out of me, accompanied by a creeptastic musical score. I was genuinely worried it was going to follow me into my dreams. While the main character and the audience struggle to separate reality from imagination, the more supernatural elements of Dam - which is the word "mad" spelt backwards, according to series creator Alex Yazbek - has an unsettling realness to it that would freak out most South African audiences.

I also applaud the series for actually incorporating a decent take on the land claim debate in our country and weaving it into the mythology of the series. I've always thought horror was a great medium to explore the sensitive topic, blending in the bloody history of dispossession that opponents to land claims tend to conveniently forget. The "founding" families in Dam have a certain arrogance when it comes to their land, as if there was nothing when they first arrived there, but later on, you discover how much they have actually corrupted the land with blood and heartache. That corruption permeates through all the characters - except for outsiders - and forges toxic relationships in a patriarchal community where women are only valued for their sexual worth.

Unfortunately, the story included a bit too much of everything. There are some big logical jumps in the plot that take you completely off-guard. The first half of the series starts strong, but in the last few episodes, so many threads of the plot are left hanging in the air, perhaps asking the audience too many times to infer their own answers. A lot isn't fully explained, running at full pace past supposedly big reveals. The last five minutes make little sense, disjointed from what the story's leading up to. It felt like a lot was left on the cutting room floor in the editing process. Just one more episode would have helped to answer many of the unanswered questions and give the audience time to fully comprehend what's going on.

Most of the cast gave decent performances, with special mentions going to Dladla for his heroics, Neil Sandilands for his quirky drifter role and Gerald Steyn for that psychosis festering underneath a boytjie veneer. Unfortunately, I liked the main characters, the two sisters, the least, although I am not sure if it was intentional from the writer's perspective. The vulnerable-but-strong archetype just didn't gel well and had a vapidness that sometimes comes to the fore when men write for women. The actresses worked with what they had, but I just couldn't bring myself to be very sympathetic to their situations.

In the end, I enjoyed Dam for its darkness and unique scares but was disappointed by the plot's lack of focus and non-coherent ending. This is definitely not a relaxing watch for when you want to chill out. It's best to watch with someone else and not too close to your bedtime, when loud pipes are more likely to start sounding like ominous voices from the beyond.


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