Make a Deal with the Soul Collector (2020)
Title: The Soul Collector
First Wide Release: June 12, 2020 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Harold Holscher
Writer: Harold Holscher, Johannes Ferdinand Van Zyl
Runtime: 100 Minutes
Starring: Tshamano Sebe, Inge Beckmann, Keita Luna
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
An old and mysterious man named Lazerus (Tshamano Sebe) is doomed to collect souls after he made the mistake of trading his daughter’s years ago. Meanwhile, a family moves into property willed down to them just off the off skirts of a nearby village. Once they settle in, their daughter, Mary (Keita Luna), meets Lazerus and forms a relationship with him. Initially her parents (Inge Beckmann, Garth Breytenbach) disapprove of Lazerus until he shows promise working around their estate. Things change only when they realize that Mary, and their entire family, are in danger. Harold Holscher’s film, The Soul Collector, is a solid debut despite its flaws.
Rich in lore and strong performances, The Soul Collector is an odd but engaging South African horror film worthy of your time.
Set in 1977, The Soul Collector blends racial tension and supernatural horror in a unique and satisfying manner. While I don’t have the range to talk about South African race politics or Apartheid, The Soul Collector feels appropriately setup. There’s obvious distrust between the Black villagers who live near the land and William and his family when they relocate. This racial tension heightens once the villagers become aware of Lazerus’s presence in their lives. Their warnings to stay away from him are unheeded due to William relying on Lazerus to translate.
Their initial trepidations with Lazerus soften after they interpret his work on their property as helpful and experienced. This reinforces several narratives about how white South Africans viewed Black South Africans: more as utilities than people with their own aspirations. This leans into some stereotypes that often befall Black characters in film, namely the mystical Black man, which does get turned on its head quite a bit in the end. That’s also why it’s difficult to find William and Sarah likeable, their frigidity while proven right in the end, doesn’t inspire sympathy.
Beckmann, and Breytenbach are fine in their roles, but both Sebe and Luna are where the film shines. Sebe carries with a rich performance filled with a wide range of emotion and depth not afforded to many anti-heroes while Luna inspires whimsy as an adorably curious and precocious child. Sebe teeters between sinister and warm before dialing up the intensity in his character. He communicates so much between his voice, his physicality, and his presence. His work is stunning, and I truly hope he gets more recognition for his performance here.
Infused with South African lore that makes it more interesting than most supernatural genre fare as of late, which makes The Soul Collector a solid entry from an emerging horror market. Accented with haunting visuals and beautiful cinematography, the indie film boasts solid production values for what is assumed to be a modest budget. I appreciate the natural beauty of the film. The South African sky tinted with pink or filled with starlight, the rolling plains and mountainous peaks, it all serves as an excellent setting for terrifying events. One image stands out, the burning fire surrounding the house in the shape of the letter 8, or infinity symbol if viewed in another angle. It stays with you.
There’s also a depth to the movie that never really delves deep enough, but still asks some powerful questions of its viewers. It’s main themes of racism, guilt, and redemption are propelled by Lazerus’s punishment. There’s also a very deep connection to the natural world. Close up shots of moths, worms, and maggots are used as metaphors for the cycle of life and death. We see pets buried by hand and characters liken themselves to dead trees. The subtext may be a bit unfocused, but it is deep enough to wade in and thoroughly soak a viewer.
While it never reaches the full heights of its intriguing premise, The Soul Collector is a solid film with striking visuals and storytelling. The horror is pretty restrained, and it never attacks in the way it could but its story is just offbeat enough to captivate an audience, trading bombastic scares for unsettling atmosphere. Those looking for something a little different and enjoy the paranormal should seek out this film. More likely to fall under the radar than be doomed to the depths of streaming services, The Soul Collector is a strong indie effort that puts its best foot forward.
Overall Score? 6/10