The Tokoloshe

Brief Analysis and Review:


The Tokoloshe is a South African folklore horror film that also makes a social statement about its culture.  Directed by Jerome Pikwane who also co-wrote with Richard Kunzmann uses both English and Zulu to tell this story.


Busi (Petronella Tshuma) is a young destitute woman that leaves her country home and moves to the city.  She receives employment as a cleaner at Johannesburg hospital on the midnight shift, in hopes to save enough money to bring her sister (Lindi) to live with her.  While at the exceptionally quiet hospital, she meets a young girl, Gracie, who believes she is being tormented by a supernatural force.


The Tokoloshe has been part of South Africa’s folklore as a way to explain deaths.  He is said to be malevolent and dangerous, coming out at night to scare children.  He is also known to rape women or even murder.  There is a narrator in the beginning this movie who explains the lore of the tokoloshe as being old as mankind, cursed and full of hatefulness, he waits for lost and weak children who are along so that he may feed on them.  The children whom have been abandoned at the hospital are impacted by their belief in the folklore.  Ramunasi (the night nurse) describes the tokoloshe as one who tricks children before drowning them and comments on how long his genital is.  She even goes as far as calling Ruatomin (the hospital manager) the tokoloshe.  Rautomin uses his standing to intimidate, belittle and taking what he wants from immigrant women.  The tokoloshe appears to be used more as a metaphor for the sexual abuse and trauma that has been bestowed upon the characters in this movie. As Busi’s psychological trauma resurfaces and current danger draws closer, the stronger the presence of the tokoloshe becomes.


The movie uses flashbacks throughout the movie to introduce and expand on what is haunting Busi.  One of the flashbacks shows a woman running through the fields being chased by something or someone before being swept away.  Another memory is of Busi’s small home in the country and a specific event that had deeply impacted her.  In the fields is a creepy hut where souls of children are kept by a Sangom or witch doctor.  He appears to be performing some ritual on the girl as a man, presumably her father waits outside the hut.  This made me wonder if this was a comment on female genital mutilation which is used in some areas as a way to keep a girl’s sexual purity.  The alarming fact is, adults and parents give their daughters over to this practice.  If this is the case, Busi feels betrayed by her mother for not protecting her and her sister from her father’s wishes.



Busi meets a blind man, Abel who can sense she hides a troubled soul.  He tells her that if she wants to be strong, she must wake up.  Abel is the adult who tries to protect her, something she has never had.  He offers her a mask of a demon of her choosing, who will protect her by chasing away evil spirits.  You see her giving the outward appearance of gaining strength since the gifting of this mask.


A news commentary on the radio informs the audience about the facts occurring in South Africa.  At one time the viewer is told of the influx in immigrants at such an alarming rate that it is a health hazard. Another social note made in this movie is how one in three children are sexually abused.  South Africa has some of the highest sexual violence ratings in the world.


Gracie may be unwilling to admit that she views herself as a cowered and someone who runs away from her problems. This was evident by her walking away from Abel when he asked where her sister currently was and where she came from.  To cope with the trauma and guilt, we are introduced to Gracie, who may be a psychological manifestation created by Busi.  Gracie represents childhood innocence.  Having her continuously being pursued by the tokoloshe represents the fears which have followed her into adulthood.  Although she does not see the Tokoloshe herself, the little girl is adamant that she is being tormented by him.  Gracie is the bearer of foreshadowing, warning Busi that danger will come and when it has arrived.  Busi becomes stronger as she has someone to protect, allowing her another opportunity to keep someone safe and shift the focus onto.  It is safer to address Gracie’s fears than her own.  Gracie may also represent a young Busi.  Relying only on herself to watch over her from the wrong doings of adults.


The movie demonstrates how women are preyed upon and how some view unwanted advances as the victim’s fault.  Busi’s repressed nature gives her the appearance of being meek but she is not looking to draw attention to herself.  She cowers when others speak to her, particularly when predatorial men confront her or even try to rape her.  Yet she will fight back with force dispelling that she is weak by nature.  However, she is not meek; she is uncomfortable and is protecting herself from the world.


After learning of her sister’s suicide, she returns home to bury Lindi, but ends up confronting her past.  In a dream, her sister presents herself and leads Busi through the fields where Gracie has wondered off to.  When she awakes, she searches for the little girl whom she finds.  Gracie leads her to the hut, the central source of her torment. Reluctant to go inside, she starts to walk away only to find the courage once told Lindi is in there.  Busi merges metaphorically into Gracie confronting her childhood trauma.  It is now that she learns what she must do to free herself.


There is more to this movie than being a thriller, everything has a purpose and meaning to it.  The use of long hallways solidifies the feeling of isolation and feeling trapped.  The lighting in this movie is used as a window into her psychological state.  You experience the trepidation that follows Busi and her descent into psychological withdraw as she fights her way out.

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