Talking Movies: Escape From Pretoria, 8 and Athlete A

Spling reviews Escape From Pretoria, 8 and Athlete A as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.


Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…

This week, we’re talking about a prison break thriller, a horror mystery and a sports documentary.

Starting off with a film on TNT, DStv channel 137…


Set in 1979 South Africa, political activist turned prisoner, Tim Jenkin, crafts a meticulous escape plan.

Director: Francis Annan

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Ian Hart and Daniel Webber

– A pure quest for freedom and justice separates Escape from Pretoria from many contemporary jailbreak stories.
– You could describe it as a blend of Magyver and The Shawshank Redemption as Jenkin uses his ingenuity and available materials against the backdrop of social injustice and old-fashioned prison system.
– Jenkin’s steely determination, industrious nature and moral conviction keep the role action-orientated for a thoughtful and pensive Radcliffe.
– Annan carefully calibrates elegant suspense sequences much like the key master himself, leveraging some of the film’s smallest moments to such great effect it could’ve been called ‘Cold Sweat’.
– Escape from Pretoria was forced to relocate to Australia, which helps explain the iffy accent work, international casting and some awkward moments.
– While these flaws are indelicate to unintentionally funny, the prison break thriller still manages to immerse and swathe you in its mystique, poise and suspense.
– The driving soundtrack, intricate sound design, taut atmosphere, fluid cinematography, excellent pacing and authentic production design keep the story lean, visually-appealing and entertaining.
– It’s fresh thanks to Radcliffe’s starring role, Jenkin’s perspective as a white anti-Apartheid activist and the innovative and resourceful Macgyver escape angle.
– Although far from perfect, it does manage to transcend many of its superficial flaws, capture the spirit of the times and the essence of the true story with panache and great entertainment value.

A solid 7 on the splingometer

Moving on to a horror mystery now on Netflix…


An old man, fated to collect souls for eternity, seeks atonement after trading his daughter’s soul.

Director: Harold Holscher

Stars: Tshamano Sebe, Inge Beckmann and Garth Breytenbach

– 8 is a horror mystery from Holscher, an up-and-coming South African filmmaker who leans on some classic horror elements in his striking feature film debut.
– Aerial shots of a car traversing an isolated landscape, a family settling into a rural home with dark secrets, the film definitely has its influences.
– While 8 borrows aspects from The Shining, Pet Sematary and The Innocents, the story is fresh and distinctly South African, incorporating folklore and tradition.
– The production design and cinematography make this local film a cut above, dexterously handling a tale of an anti-hero in wolf’s clothing.
– Tshamano Sebe is best known for Of Good Report and delivers a captivating and well-balanced performance as the pivotal character, Lazarus.
– The dialogue is a bit clunky at times, the storytelling does have some inconsistencies and a few missteps unfortunately lead to unintentional comedy.
– While a chilling horror, it’s not quite as scary or suspenseful as it deserved to be, keeping a good pace and leveraging some good performances to keep you invested in the story.
– 8 is impressive to behold and builds to a cataclysmic fever pitch, taking some curious and thoughtful risks, most of which pay off.
– It straddles the divide of artful horror and pure popcorn escapism, creating layers of textured, high quality story material yet operating on a glossy, superficial level.
– It’s elegant, earnest and effective as an intriguing ensemble horror mystery drama yet undermined by loose characterisation and a seesawing script.

A satisfactory 6 on the splingometer!

And finally a documentary now streaming on Netflix…


A documentary about the IndyStar journalists and survivors who broke the decades-long USA Gymnastics sexual assault scandal.

Directors: Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk

– Essentially blending the investigative reporting of Spotlight with the storytelling of Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator, this disturbing and explosive documentary tackles a landmark in the movement of speaking out and addressing sexual crimes and cover ups.
– It’s reported that over 500 women came forward after several key figures took the matter further with the help of journalists and legal representatives.
– At the centre of the scandal is team doctor, Larry Nassar, whose protection, misdirection and affable nature enabled him to continue mistreating girls for years.
– Representing the sporting talent, the history of USAG, the coaching philosophy and the organisation’s attempt to divert any reports of sexual assault, Athlete A gives USA Gymnastics the 3rd degree in this eye-opening and shocking crime documentary.
– While a bit drawn out and unable to interview key figures, this compelling documentary is still a powderkeg, which will redefine America’s cornerstone commitment to winning at all costs.

A solid 7 on the splingometer

So just to wrap up…

ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA… an amazing true story, determined lead and fresh perspective unlock superficial flaws in this well-crafted prison break thriller… A solid 7!

8… while at times clunky and superficial, this intriguing horror mystery is buoyed by a strong lead, fine production values and sleek visuals… A satisfactory 6!

ATHLETE A… while overlong, it remains a disturbing, eye-opening and powerful investigative documentary blend of Spotlight and Bikram… A solid 7!

Watch the premiere of TNT Original movie, Escape from Pretoria, on Saturday 4 July at 8pm on TNT, DStv channel 137.

I’ll be hosting an online watch party during the broadcast with prizes, movie trivia, live commentary and a special Q&A with Tim Jenkin and director Francis Annan after the movie, which you can join from 7pm by following @SplingMovies or #BingeingWithSpling across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

And remember, Don’t WING it, SPL!NG it!