I first mentioned The Hex, (not to be confused with the 2017 British film Hex) or Heks as it’s called in its native South Africa, last summer and I’ve been waiting not entirely patiently for it to arrive since then. It’s the writing and directorial debut of actress Reine Swart who’s starred in South African genre films like The Lullaby and Triggered as well as the US crime drama The Refuge. Does her talent behind the camera match her talent in front of it?
Dilanne (Coco Lloyd) is the British raised daughter of a South African mother (Mary-Anne Barlow, Prey). Shortly after her mother goes back to South Africa Dilanne witnesses her murder while they’re video chatting. When the authorities come up empty she flies back.
She’s met by her mother’s twin sister Lisa (Mary-Anne Barlow) and reunites with old friends Tertius (Christopher Jaftha) and Bandile (Hungani Ndlovu). Bandile’s girlfriend Michelle (Stephanie Sandows). But she doesn’t know that her Aunt is keeping secrets from her, secrets Anathi (Mari Molefe van Heerden) feels she should be told. In the meantime Dilanne has reached out to a Witch Doctor (Mari Molefe van Heerden) about a strange mask her mother owned.
The Hex is rooted in South African folklore and, much like it did in 8: A South African Horror Story aka The Soul Collector, it gives the film a refreshingly different feeling. We’ve had plenty of Christian demons, and their Asian counterparts have become equally worn out since the success of The Ring and The Grudge. African folklore makes a nice change.
It isn’t all unfamiliar territory though. Swart’s script mixes in plenty of familiar elements as well, so the viewer never gets too lost. Granted some of those elements, like food suddenly becoming infested, might be a bit too familiar. But overall The Hex has enough new ideas that it avoids the stale feeling so many of these films have.
Of course, the big secret is eventually revealed. And I can understand why Dilanne’s aunt would want to keep that skeleton in the closet. But once it and the curse associated with it are out the film turns into a spookshow with spirits popping up everywhere, including the bathroom. Which, I suppose, is an appropriate place to have the shit scared out of you.
And that’s what The Hex aims to do. There isn’t much depth to the film but there are plenty of scares. Both as Dilanne passes in and out of nightmares and hallucinations and the spirits actually show up. With the frequency of both, you’re never sure whether it’s a “harmless” scare or the real thing. There isn’t much in the way of gore, but the makeup for the ghosts is nicely done. The bald, hairless one is distinctly creepy in its looks and mannerisms.
I am surprised that with the plot’s use of a mask and two actresses playing dual roles The Hex didn’t involve the concept of identity more. Certainly there is a bit of play with the idea of covering someone’s true nature like a mask covers their appearance. But it’s fairly superficial and the potential of the dual roles really isn’t tapped.
For a first time director though, Reine Swart has done a good job and hopefully she’ll get a chance to do more. She’s delivered a film that’s never boring and will make you jump more than once. I’m sure some will write it off as shallow, or just a collection of jump scares. But that’s fine, some films are just meant to be fun, and The Hex is good fun.