What would you do to bring back someone you loved from beyond the grave? This pertinent question is the motivating force behind 8, the latest film by South African director Harold Holscher. The horror feature, which is deeply steeped in South African folklore, tells the story of a white family who moves into an inherited farm.

Their daughter Mary (Keita Luna) quickly befriends an odd old black man who lives nearby named Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe). Her parents are apprehensive, and for good reason. Long ago, Lazarus made a deal with the devil to resurrect his daughter, and is now doomed to collect souls to feed the demonic entity that used to be his child for eternity. So begins a tale of horror in 1977 South Africa!

Hölscher builds off of this boilerplate plot to tell a unique tale of family tragedy and regret that hasn’t been seen recently in mainstream horror cinema. It’s a grim and moody fairy tale filled with well-timed jump-scares and unnerving visuals. Lazarus’s daughter in particular, takes over the screen with truly horrifying makeup effects that make her seem like the world’s most haunted burn victim. At the heart of all these nightmares is Sebe, who gives a heartbreaking performance as Lazarus; a man torn between his past choices and a chance for redemption. His expressions are those of a master actor, as he truly turns the film into a moving tragic tale, instead of what could’ve been a cheap horror flick. His interactions with Mary (Luna, who gives a pretty good debut film performance) makes the ending pack an emotional punch. 8 is ultimately a moving story about the lengths parents will go to protect their children, even if it means making a deal with otherworldly and downright evil forces.

8: A South African Horror Story screened at the 55th Chicago International Film Festival as part of the After Dark program. The film will play again on October 25th at 10:30 pm at AMC River East 21.

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