AN EXPLORER GETS a lot more than he bargained for, in Martyn Le Roux’s debut Afrikaans-language horror film which released on Vimeo last Friday. It’s a viable model for storytelling and the terror of the tale can be as close as your computer screen, with live-streaming. Die Pelsloper – which translates literally as ‘skin walker’, but idiomatically as something a little more sinister, like a shape shifter – is a tale that focuses on the scariness of the South African terrain and the mysteries it hides.
In South Africa, we do not have creepy forests and very old architecture that European gothic horror is premised on. Rather, we have hostile vast landscapes that may hold a whole panoply of ghosts. Think back to Manie van Rensburg’s miniseries on SABC in the late 1980s, The Mantis Project, in which a bunch of strangers come together for an experimental project which goes rogue and spooky. Or Yael Farber’s play Mies Julie, which explores the broken stories and unrequited ghosts of the Karoo, or even Reza de Wet’s Diepe Grond, which saw light of day in English recently, as African Gothic, taking you into the rotten heart of abandoned children in a place of blood. Here we have something similar which promises to open a vein of scary all of its own: Die Pelsloper takes us into the unknown terrain of the Tankwa, deep in the heart of the Karoo.
And like Stephen King’s Misery, Le Roux’s is a work that leaves the protagonist helpless by accident and in the care of a mysterious stranger, leaving you caught between relief and even more fear. George Coetzee (Francois Coertze) is a modern day South African ghost-buster. But instead of electric green ghost vomit and a cutesy narrative, this guy bills himself a paranormal expert, a scientist. Armed with a decent 4×4, modern day savvy and a curious heart, he’s seeking and defusing ghosts such as Tokoloshes and the like, which draw on South African traditional beliefs and fears. A chance encounter with a bloke in a bar, a mention of ghost frogs and a hastily drawn map on a serviette sends him on his way to adventure in the unknown.
What transpires is something a lot more than he bargains for. It is here, with a bump on the back of his head that he meets Samantha (Chantelle Werth). Or that’s what she calls herself. The name fits in her mouth with such discomfort that you don’t believe her from the moment you see her. A young Brooke Shield type of girl, with gorgeous eyebrows and a strong body, she’s polished and educated, is not afraid to show a bit of leg, but lives all alone in the middle of the boendoes, with strange things that include a hexagram on her wall, and a skull that’s nothing you can recognise.
And indeed, a spot of lust and not a little curiosity fuels our hero. The more he digs, however, the more he finds things and histories that are so scary and violent that he needs to dig further. And further. But all is not revealed. What you will watch of Die Pelsloper is, however, just the first part. Part two releases early next year, but there’s enough of a teaser here for it to be a powerful cliff-hanger, with moments to chill your blood totally. You may know Le Roux’s approach to his stories from his recent radio play, Hittegolf, but here you see him dancing to a different tune.
While the soundtrack of Die Pelsloper doesn’t always feel necessary and the first part, which clocks in at over two hours is at such special pains to develop context in the characters, that it sometimes feels a little laboured, there’s a story here that’s worth following, and there’s a micro-second of a teaser for part two that will make your heart beat faster, as it comes to rest in your throat.
- Die Pelsloper is written and directed by Martyn Le Roux and features a cast headed by Stephanie Bothma, Francois Coertze, Wikus de Kock, Johan Haasbroek, Lisa Heath, Zani Myburgh, Su Nightingale, Hayley Pieters, Pieter Theron, Sienna Lily Schmidt, Carike van Zyl, Chantelle Werth. Produced by Martyn LeRoux, it features creative input by Juandre Spangenberg, Yolandé Strauss and Desmond Wells (music). Release date on vimeo: November 9 2018.