South African folklore is rife with stories of Tokoloshe (aka Tikoloshe or Tokolotshe), a mischievous and angry creature with a penchant for killing. As such, the evil spirit, who has a taste for toes, has recently been depicted several times on the silver screen. Tokoloshe: The Calling is director Richard Green’s take on the horror myth from a screenplay he wrote with Arish Sirkissoon.
High school teacher Thembi (Shezi Sibongiseni) cannot sleep at night due to the unsettling visions she’s having. While in therapy with Dr. Richards (Llyod Grant O’Connor), Thembi describes images of a long-abandoned hotel, though she recognizes it from her childhood. She also sees the actions of the family currently staying there. Dr. Richards believes that putting her under hypnosis and taking her back to her time at the hotel will help cure her.
All the while, that family Thembi envisions is settling into the haunted hotel as best as possible. Arish (Arish Sirkissoon) moved his wife, Angelina (Angela Balkovic), and daughter Ntombi (Lwandile Xaba) to the hotel so he can get over his writer’s block and create another bestseller. But, it isn’t long until they are being haunted in their sleep by Tokoloshe, who is bloodthirsty. Tokoloshe also can possess people, meaning that Arish, Angelina, and even little Ntombi might not be who they appear to be.
“…being haunted in their sleep by Tokoloshe…”
Green takes the helm behind the camera for the first time since 1982, having made his debut with the made-for-television Praise. In that time, he’s produced several titles and was the assistant director of the second unit for District 9. Maybe the allure of bringing the South African myth to life was too good to pass up, or maybe homaging The Shining whenever possible proved a most tempting offer. Whatever the case might be, Tokoloshe: The Calling is effectively creepy, even if it is a bit long in places, and confusing at times, though that is mostly on purpose.
See, he and editors Sirkissoon and Brett van Dort arrange the film so that it is out of order. This means some moments happen without much cause, or so it seems. Eventually, everything is revealed, and the reason for the out of sequence order of scenes actually serves a purpose and does amp up the stakes for the final 10, or so, minutes. But, the repetitious shots of twins remain a source of annoyance, as they add nothing other than being yet another shout-out to the aforementioned Kubrick classic.
Luckily, the cast keeps Tokoloshe: The Calling grounded, ensuring the price of Tokoloshe’s existence is properly understood at all times. Of particular note are Balkovic, who has the hapless, scared thing down pat, and Sibongiseni who’s intrigue, apprehension, and gravitas fuel the audience’s investment in her and story overall. But everyone does a good job, especially at the end.
Tokoloshe: The Calling does not lean all that much into its South African roots, as the film is largely a standard haunted hotel. However, while some scenes last a little too long and are jumbled, the film is creepy and engaging, and Green’s love of the genre is apparent from the jump. Plus, the cast delivers in a big way so that the horror and stakes are always felt.
"…creepy and engaging..."