Friday, October 15, 2021

THE SOUL COLLECTOR (2019) Movie Review

Scare-A-Thon Totals to Date:

Total Movies Watched: 13
Total First Time Views: 8
Amount raised for ALBANY PARK THEATER PROJECT: $658.45

The Soul Collector (aka 8) (2019) d. Harold Holscher (South Africa) (100 min) (1st viewing)

“Somewhere in South Africa, 1977,” we are introduced to an unsteady and fragile family unit. William (Garth Breytenbach) moves his lily-white family, wife Sarah (Inge Beckmann) and adopted daughter Mary (Keita Luna) back to the farm he has inherited from his estranged father. Soon after they arrive Mary befriends Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe) a black “sangoma” witch doctor whom she meets in the woods who claims to have been a former employee of William’s father. Despite Sarah’s initial mistrust, Lazarus is eventually allowed to stay in the shack out back (after fixing the electric generator, literally bringing light to their lives). But the kindly figure has a dark past and a heavy load to carry – in his satchel, he totes around the undead figure of his lost child Vuyiswa (Owam Amey) and she is hungry….

The most frustrating thing about this debut feature from director/co-writer Holscher is his desire to appeal to a mass audience as opposed to truly imbuing the story with the kind of unique perspective and atmosphere that such a venture could have afforded. Every rough edge, be it character or plot device, has been ground down such that what remains could have originated from anyone from anywhere.

Why go through the trouble of setting it during South Africa’s darkest days of apartheid if nothing is going to be made of it? Lazarus is given only the most cursory of trials before being accepted wholeheartedly into the family (by William and Mary, at least), and while Sarah still regards him with suspicion, she’s also portrayed as a bit of a worrywort and wet blanket in all things, so there’s little audience relation to her.

We infer early on that Lazarus has more sinister intentions with regard to the young (and sickeningly sweet and innocent) Mary, but he treats her with such gentleness whilst spouting folksy wisdom about the circle of life, such as when her favorite silkworm dies, that there is never a sense of true menace or dread. And, well, there should be. This is through no fault of Sebe, who proves a capable and charismatic performer, far and away the strongest in the cast and deserving of a stronger vehicle to flex his chops.

Time and again, every opportunity for terror is either muted or completely cliched in its approach (cue the jump scares), with the decision to tell the story from the perspective of the white family completely in keeping with the safe “traditional” path that keeps what could have been a genuinely unique and exotic tale from ever taking flight. A far more satisfying genre representation of South Africa can be found in Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil from 1992; even in its hacked and Miramaxed form, it is more satisfying that this thrice-washed, rinsed, and repeated fright formula.


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