Some movies seem to try their darndest to mimic the experience of walking through a Halloween haunt, throwing out seemingly unrelated scares in quick succession, rarely leaving time to appreciate the atmosphere in between. Some will even throw in references to more iconic pieces of horror pop culture for increased entertainment value. But rarely do these make good movies as they are. According to IMDb, the plot to Tokoloshe: The Calling (or, Tokoloshe: An African Curse, as IMDb brands it) is this:
“A successful writer goes to an abandoned hotel with his wife and adopted daughter to finish his much anticipated follow-up book when strange things start to occur. At the same time, a high school teacher is forced to deal with her gruesome past which is linked to the same hotel.”
This, however, is only very loosely what happens. There is a high school teacher, Thembi (Shezi Sibongiseni), whose past is linked to the hotel. But it’s apparent right from the outset that her storyline isn’t happening “at the same time” as that of the writer and his family. The narrative tries to frame the fact that the daughter of the family is Thembi as a child as a shocking twist at the end, but despite the anachronisms, it’s obvious from a storytelling standpoint, and that I’m supposed to be shocked by this makes me wonder if I was supposed to forget the first half of the movie as the film progressed.
In the flashbacks, unless I missed something, it also isn’t all that obvious that Arish Verma (Arish Sirkissoon) is “a successful writer” trying to “finish his much anticipated follow-up book.” He’s a writer, sure, but his success and current project aren’t really apparent. It also wasn’t apparent that the hotel was supposed to be abandoned when the family moved in, considering they were checked in by a member of staff, the open wing of the hotel was kept up in anticipation of guests, there is supposedly another family also staying there, and nobody in a non-apocalyptic setting would just move their family into an abandoned hotel just to work on writing a book. It all feels like a lazy excuse to rip off as much of The Shining as possible.
From the intro card, we know that the hotel is haunted by a malevolent entity known as a tokoloshe (toh-koh-losh), summoned by a native of the Transkei in South Africa to exact revenge on the people who stole her people’s land. That’s a great premise. But the film doesn’t deliver. Instead, we get a very general “haunted building drives people to do a whole bunch of murdering” film, stuffed with rapid cuts between relevant scenes and scenes and images that just seem to be there to be ~spooky~, making the plot incredibly hard to follow. Think the intro to a game of Trivia Murder Party, but worse. The score is also one of those that tries way too hard. If the filmmakers do their job, I shouldn’t need a sudden screeching of strings to tell me I’m supposed to be scared. Don’t tell me how to feel, movie! I should’ve known when the opening track was the most hilariously unsubtle fake children’s song ever composed.
I wanted Tokoloshe: The Calling to live up to the promising start the opening laid out. South Africa has a great deal of history that could make a great horror film. But it’s wasted here.
And for the love of all things delicious, don’t put your sharp knives away wet!
2.5 out of 10