Toronto After Dark Film Festival Review: 8 (2019)
Toronto After Dark Film Festival Review: 8 (2019)
Courtesy of TADFF

If there is a part of you that yearns for horror based on lore about which you’re unfamiliar or lore not often on screen, then 8 will scratch your itch.  Harold Holscher’s latest tells the story of a fast family, William Ziel (Garth Breytenbach), his wife, Sarah (Inge Beckmann) and their niece, Mary (Keita Luna).  Now bankrupt, and with the death of Mary’s parents, the family has moved to William’s estranged father’s farm to rebuild the farm and their lives.

Struggling to take to the farm work naturally, the family comes to rely on Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe) a strange man who appears homeless and claims to have worked at the farm previously. Lazarus charms the family, though never dodging the suspicions of Mary until his real desires become apparent.  Having lost his young daughter in a fire, Lazarus made a deal to revive her and is now bound to feed the demon version of her that desires the souls of the living.

I must admit that I am not familiar with the South African lore that makes up the story here, but 8 absolutely made me want to find it all out.  The village people are wary of Lazarus, calling him a demon, and paining and restraining themselves for the evil they expect and associate with him.  The story and rituals would absolutely land harder for those well versed in the lore, and it’s exciting that a film like this can inspire the want to learn and act as a beacon for those familiar who want to see it portrayed on screen.

This film succeeds because of its heart.  The family, being the odds and ends of a broken group trying to hold themselves together, and the grieving Lazarus doing whatever he can to cope.  Though he is labeled a demon and is taking life and souls, Lazarus never feels like a villain, but instead, a compelling character for whom you almost cheer.  

Visually, the film is truly beautiful with stunning shots of the South African geography and beautiful images of townspeople, the forest, animals, and the farmhouse.  The cast really shines, none more than Sebe who delivers a complex performance that portrays the pain and suffering Lazarus is constantly facing while charming a family and performing his evil deeds.  

Though not perfectly paced, and with an ending that kind of loses itself, 8 is a well-made story that leans into grief and family to garner scares.  It’s a successful portrayal of real horror through the horrors of this specific lore that will inspire you to learn something new or see something you know on screen for the first time.  

Lindsay Traves
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