Until recently, horror wasn’t a genre South African filmmakers wanted to explore. That has since changed.
In recent times, several local horrors have been produced. While critics slated some, others like Harold Hölscher’s “8” garnered favourable responses.
This is his first horror film and he does a stellar job with the casting, narrative and direction.
A fan of psychological horror, he understood the trope well.
He said: “ I fell in love with ‘The Ring’ and ‘Ju-On: The Grudge’. I fell in love with those culturally vibrant Japanese and Eastern horror flicks. It was just so fresh. And I was like wait a minute. South Africa and horror, why is no one doing this? There are so much untold mysticism, cultural beliefs and religious beliefs and witchcraft.”
And so he started working on the script. This was back in 2008 when the film industry in SA was still growing. Securing funding wasn’t easy, either.
Hölscher recalled: “I had a massive struggle to get finance for this film. Everyone was like, ‘What are you talking about, no one is going to watch this. A man with a bag and a little girl in it. Are you mad?’ I was like, ‘yes, I am mad, but I think people will watch this.”
He anchored “8” in African folklore. The movie stars with William Ziel (Garth Breytenbach), who makes his way to his family farm with his wife Sarah (Inge Beckmann) and adopted niece, Mary (Keita Luna). His father has passed and he is looking to sell the property.
A day after settling in, the family meet Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe), a mysterious loner who seeks work. He helped Mary find her way back after getting lost in the woods. William welcomes the help but Sarah isn’t keen on having this stranger on their property.
Meanwhile, the villagers nearby share Sarah’s dislike toward Lazarus. They blame him for inviting evil into their lives.
The director offered: “When I started developing the character for Lazarus, he just became more deeper and complex and three dimensional. I think that is where it all started for me. Lazarus was always a faceless character for me. The way that I portray him with a hat and a long coat, it’s like something out of a western film but I didn’t have any actors in mind for that.”
Breytenbacht was a natural choice for Hölscher, who has cast him in several of his projects.
“I always use him, he’s in all my films. He is good and it is not because he’s my friend (they studied together). He’s such a great actor with a big presence on screen.”
Interestingly, it was Breytenbach who suggested Sebe.
He explained: “Garth showed me a picture of him. Tshamano had played a character in ‘Black Sails’. His face says death. He has such a beautiful voice and an interesting accent. And when he came in for the role, I said: ‘Oh God, I found Lazarus’.”
“I can’t imagine anyone else playing him and I can’t imagine the film without him.”
With “8”, Hölscher paid close attention to direction, tone and the pace of the narrative.
“I wanted to be very aware of not doing the normal. I didn’t want to shove jump scares into a film to get a fright. ‘8’ is a horror but it is more of a fusion. For me, it was all about the suspense, stretching it and releasing it. It’s important when you break down the pace of the film to understand when the breaks come and when can you stretch it.,” he explained.
“I really wanted the audience to question and fall in love with the character. And for the audience to have a resonance with the characters. I wanted to make a good film and not a sensationalist horror.
“8” unravels how superstition can easily translate into fear.
It’s a battle of good versus evil and the end is a welcome twist.
This movie is wonderfully-shot film. The director balances the quiet of the farmhouse with troubling dreams and incidents.
Sebe is remarkable as he unleashes the complexities of his character. Lazarus is torn between doing the right thing and being a good father by taking care of a daughter with an insatiable appetite for souls. It’s dark and twisted.
The quiet of the farmstead becomes an uncomfortable companion and viewers are left captivated as the director takes them on a suspenseful, eerie journey, where death looms as two worlds are about to collide.
‘8’ is currently streaming on Netflix.