8 : ‘Fantasia’ Review – Chilling, Terrifying and Flawed Folk Horror
The moment “8” starts, we are treated to a stunning shot of green hills, a slightly-clouded sky, and a single car, cruising through a road in the middle. This scene is coupled with a hauntingly beautiful tune, reminiscent of “Silent Hill”, which induces a state of calm before the storm, as it then switches to a scene where a man slowly and painfully extracts the soul of another, sacrificing it to the devil. I feel that these few minutes, and the contrast they contain, perfectly describe the film as a whole. It is supposed to be a horror film, and while it succeeds exceedingly well at that, nevertheless, at certain moments, it creates a feeling of tranquility and ease, but also anticipation, for the inevitable return of the humming man and the demon-child he carries.
William Zeil returns to his father’s farm, that he inherited with his wife Sara and their adopted daughter Mary. The latter wanders into the forest by herself and finds a man sitting alone and humming, he introduces himself as Lazarus and takes an immediate liking to Mary, helps her return home and then apologizes to the concerned parents and tells them that he once worked as a farmhand for William’s father. After Lazarus is invited to stay in the farm, and after he and William go to the nearby village to introduce themselves, it becomes clear that the residents of the village don’t take very kindly to Lazarus, and that the place William and his small family came upon is gonna be anything but uneventful.
The genre of folkloric horror remained underrepresented for far too long, but lately, it seems that that is set to change. “8” borrows many elements from South African folklore and successfully implements them into the story, for the most part, setting itself and indeed, the rest of the films of this subgenre, from your generic horror flick. The story, while nothing revolutionary, is gripping and develops at a perfect speed, revealing just what the audience needs to know at every given point in the film, and although it becomes somewhat predictable sometimes, what isn’t nowadays, really?
The film’s scenery and mise-en-scène are one of its strongest points. It ranges from beautiful green landscapes to dark empty corridors, and whatever it is, you can count on it being captured masterfully and potently. These scenes become a backdrop for some very strong performances, as well as some mediocre ones, as much as I hate to admit it. Tshamano Sebe, the actor who played Lazarus, gave a particularly stirring and chilling performance, to the point that the tune he quietly hums will be stuck with you long after the credits roll.
What is unfortunate about “8” is the fact that it relies more on jump scares and very generic and cheesy horror elements, rather than the intriguing folklore it uses as source material. The South African folklore is, without question, the foundation of the story, but still, I believe it was largely underused, which is a shame because, without it, the film has no charm of its own, nor any originality for that matter. Had the director implemented this beautiful mythology into the story more, I think the film wouldn’t have had as bad and pretentious an ending as it did.
“8” is chilling, gripping and at times terrifying. It presents the audience with a story deeply rooted in South African folklore and a fair amount of scares, but unfortunately, it falls short of its own goals, and its need for conformity prevents it from being a folk horror masterpiece.