The Soul Collector Is A South African Horror Flick About The Scary 70s
Welcome back to BOO-nited Nations, the column where we delve entirely too deeply into horror movies from around the world. We took a brief excursion to Austria and Japan for Goodnight Mommy and Noroi: The Curse, respectively, and today we’ll be headed to South Africa for The Soul Collector, which is presently streaming on Roku, Amazon Freevee, and Sling TV.
While I originally wanted to rep Nollywood, Nigeria’s gigantic homegrown movie scene, this article would go on for two weeks. Instead, we’re going to ease into the world of African horror – inasmuch as a continent with 54 countries compromising well over 3,000 distinct cultures can be said to have a single recognizable filmic style of horror – with something more palatable to American audiences. Today I’ll be discussing Harold Hölscher’s 2019 contained epic 8, also known as 8: A South African Horror Story, also known in the United States as The Soul Collector. This isn’t a bit, by the way, this movie has three official titles. Marketing is hard when your country has eleven official languages, okay?
So What Is This Movie About?
This one of those film with more “main characters,” less “heroes.” These are William (cool name), his wife Sarah, and their adoptive daughter Mary – actually William’s niece. They’re traveling to William’s recently inherited farm. Man, first a free child, now a free house? All dudes named William should be so lucky. They arrive at the farmhouse, which is honestly being modest. It’s more of a farm mansion. It’s huge and gorgeous. It’s also pitch black inside, not having any power. William and family go inside the big scary house, and Mary sees what I’m choosing to describe as a “ghoul,” which, by the way, is a severely underutilized horror beastie. It seems female, semi-human, but with freaky eyes and sharp teeth and grossly flexible limbs. The ghoul scurries away and the family, who didn’t really see it, beds down for the night.
Over the next several days William tries to fix up the house, including repairing the generator so the house will have power, which will hopefully alleviate the ghoul infestation. And he just… he just sucks. At everything. It’s pretty relatable, honestly. The guy has a total American-home-school-graduate level of incompetence at absolutely everything. While William bumbles about the house, hitting things with a hammer and hoping for the best, Mary befriends Lazarus, a kind local villager with some sort of ominous mystery sack, which doesn't sit well with the rest of the neighbors. Lazarus eventually moves to the family's estate, and things get even weirder.
What Manner of Monster Is This?
The Soul Collector does deal with some familiar supernatural elements, however, such as what amounts to an ironic Monkey’s Paw-syle wish-granter. There’s also the broad horror theme of “people caught between life and death who cope with their situation by eating human flesh.” Variations on this theme, from the vampires of Europe to the Chinese Jiangshi, are so common around the world that it makes one wonder if there’s a reason why seemingly every culture has stories about them. It’s probably fine!
I simply am not knowledgeable enough about South African folk traditions to know if the tales that Obara, the village elder, tells about men with shamanistic powers making deals with entities is a common superstition or something that was just made up for the film. Perhaps I should have picked the film The Tokoloshe, about South Africa’s favorite evil hairy dwarf with a penis so enormous he throws it over his shoulder like a mayor’s sash. (To answer your question, no, I didn’t agree to have my identity used in this film.)
Of course, it’s tempting to say “the real monster is colonialism and its consequences,” but that’s fairly reductive and also kind of a disservice to the film. (Some online reviews praise the film for not making the plot “about” race despite taking place in South Africa in the 1970s. To which I reply: I’m happy that CTE hasn’t stopped anyone from getting work as a freelance film writer.) The film absolutely deals with South Africa’s fraught racial history, but it does so in a mostly subtle way. The Soul Collector is ultimately a film about Lazarus, a man who made a horrific bargain in the throes of grief. Lazarus is a man conflicted, and much of the film’s horror comes from the question of when it’s better to let someone die (literally or metaphorically) than to keep clinging on to them.
But Is It Scary?
This is all to say that while I enjoyed The Soul Collector, I didn’t think it was scary, per se. At its best it was unnerving, but many of its jump scares fell flat for me. (Although, with that being said, I’m not really a fan of even masterful jumps cares because it seems to me like it’s an unavoidable limbic reaction.) The Soul Collector is a more an interesting movie, particularly as a character study of Lazarus – actor Tshamano Sebe brings depth to a role that could easily have been interpreted as a less interesting “weird dude who does evil shit because he is so evil.”
William Kuechenberg is a repped screenwriter, a Nicholl Top 50 Finalist, and an award-winning filmmaker. He’s currently looking to be a writer’s assistant, a showrunner’s assistant, or even to be staffed on a television show: tell your friends, and if you don’t have any friends, tell your enemies! You can also view his mind-diarrhea on Twitter.