Harold Holscher’s debut feature 8 is a folk tale from a land whose mythology is as dark as the day is long. A rich character study steeped in mythology from an untapped well, the Southern African fable celebrated its world premiere at the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival. While some of the finer elements of Holscher’s story will likely be missed by international audiences, the film’s focus on life, death, and forgiveness for unforgivable acts is absolutely universal.
After suffering a crippling bankruptcy, a couple moves out into the country with their adopted daughter. Struggling to bring electricity to the inherited family farm, William (Garth Breytenbach), Sarah (Inge Beckmann), and Mary (played by the scene-stealing Keita Luna), meet the helpful former farmhand, Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe). Lazarus is a man with no people. He wanders the earth, forever chained to his mistakes. Lazarus lives a life of regret and guilt, literally carrying this burden on his shoulders. Unaware of what they have invited into their lives, the family fights to keep forces from tearing them apart, while an old man looking for forgiveness prepares to collect three more souls to feed his personal demons.
The mythology of 8 runs deep in its story, digging up and unearthing beliefs from all across South Africa. For that, international audiences will likely not fully grasp the complexity of the lore. It wasn’t until I spoke with director Harold Holscher that I realized moths and butterflies, both featured prominently in the film, were very closely tied with life and death in some South African folklore. What North American audiences should embrace, however, is that feeling of “not knowing”. Any film rich with mythology should have a level of uncertainty to it.
The gods that govern the world of 8 are not concerned with explaining themselves. So long as you know what they want, they are not losing any sleep over you’re not knowing why they want it. I don’t even think that Lazarus, a servent to their demands, understands any better than we do the reason a god wants anything. Sometimes when you stare into the face of the unknown, all you get is a deep sense of something overwhelming, the way a mouse might look at a cat. And shouldn’t there be a mystery to something bigger than you? Understanding reduces fear, and there is always plenty to be afraid of when you’re messing with the ultimate.
8 is a movie worth discussing with friends over drinks at the end of the night. The entire sidewalk after the premiere was lined with people sharing ideas back and forth. There wasn’t confusion in what anyone saw, but the mythology of 8 cleverly hides from you behind a tree half its size. The parts you can’t see can be put together in your mind and until you absolutely need to see them, your imagination does just fine. At the forefront is a story of a man living a sad, and tiring life of guilt and regret- the nectar of the gods. When 8 stays with Lazarus, it is firing on all cylinders. The more we explore the complex forces swirling around our characters, the more complicated the inner workings of the world become. These sequences are beautifully shot but are maybe one ingredient too many in the pot. The South African folklore tale is a very strong debut from Holscher and proof positive that this a land with stories that need to be told.
Harold Holscher’s 8 celebrates its World Premiere at the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival Saturday, July 20. Click HERE to check out all of our continued coverage of the festival, and be sure to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to see silly photos, immediate film reactions, and the occasional photo of lunch.