The Tokoloshe, a South African fairytale-inspired horror film, is more than the creature feature it presents itself as. When we are told the mythology of the Tokoloshe, a “foul” and “hateful” creature “as old as mankind…who feeds on children and those left alone,” even a halfway educated horror fan would be expecting another malevolent monster of lore picking off doubting victims. The fears of the film’s heroine, Busi, a black maintenance worker, would constantly be gaslit and her multiple encounters with the creature disregarded. While she is being tormented, her repugnant boss and kindly nurse friend would become fodder for the Tokoloshe until a final showdown between Busi and the monster would demonstrate her true inner fortitude and strength. This is not what happens.
Even before we hear about the dreaded Tokoloshe, Busi inhabits a world of dread, trauma, and grief. She is desperate for money to get back home to her sister, who has mysteriously fallen out of contact, and it is clear from a series of flashbacks that the sisters suffered some shared trauma as children. As a result, Busi is forced to take a job mopping floors at a grubby, underfunded hospital where the lights go out sporadically and without warning.
“…her repugnant boss and kindly nurse friend would become fodder for the Tokoloshe…”
As a black South African woman, Busi’s presence is greeted with an icy reception by a white maintenance co-worker and with borderline threats from her boss. Even after he attempts to sexually assault her in easily the most horrifying sequence of the film, she is forced to supplicate herself so she can keep her job. By this point in the film, all I could think was, why do we even need a monster? The real people she is encountering are monstrous enough! I cheered aloud when, rather than having this vile boss be dispatched by the monster lurking in the shadows, Busi finishes him off herself.
What proceeds is a sometimes campy but ultimately unexpected story of personal growth and reckoning with past demons, both real and representational. Without spoiling the ending, I can say that The Tokoloshe skillfully manages to get mileage out of the tension and scares of both the creepy hospital and monster movie genres while avoiding many of their familiar beats and subverting them in a poignantly revealing finale.