Donkerbos, an Afrikaans-English-Venda murder mystery series set in Limpopo and starring Erica Wessels, is now streaming on Showmax, with new episodes every Tuesday until 17 January 2023.
When the bodies of six children are found in the backwater forests of Donkerbos, an ostracised detective must wrestle with her dark past, her family and a distrustful community to catch the killer before another child is taken.
‘Donkerbos’ series on Showmax
Written and directed by Nico Scheepers (Nêrens, Noord-Kaap), the 18LSVN Donkerbos series is produced by Nagvlug Films (2022 SAFTA winner Nêrens, Noord-Kaap, 2022 SAFTA nominee Skemerdans, and 2022 Oscar entry Barakat).
Multi-award winner Erica Wessels (Dwaalster and i am ALL GIRLS) stars as detective Stephanie ‘Fanie’ van Wyk. “We had six incredible options but everyone else approached the character with anger,” says Nico. “Erica brings empathy. She elevated the character so much; I couldn’t fathom the depth she brought.”
Fleur du Cap winner Sanda Shandu (Skemerdans, The Kissing Booth) plays detective Tsedza Tshivenga, her new partner, who is brought in from Johannesburg to assist on the headline-grabbing case by Captain Didie Baleka (SAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award winner Thoko Ntshinga from Egoli: Place of Gold). “He’s perfect for making Fanie walk on eggshells,” says Nico. “His eyes are magnets but you never know what he’s thinking.”
Early reviews for the eight-part Showmax series are glowing. Sarie’s Marteli Brewis says, “Donkerbos is gripping and will haunt you long after the credits have started rolling. It weaves a beautifully dark, horrific tale of a serial killer who preys on innocent children; the detective tasked with solving the case while facing her own demons; and all those affected by the murders. South African viewers will identify with this all-too-close-to-home masterpiece.”
Elri Boucher from TVPlus similarly calls Donkerbos a “cinematic masterpiece.” She adds, “It will keep viewers on the edge of their seat and shock them with twists, turns and red herrings. It’s a dark story with real truths that is sometimes hard to digest, but it’s one of the best Afrikaans series we have ever come across.”
Donkerbos is both a whodunnit and a whydunnit. “I kept asking myself: could a person do horrible things and still deserve your empathy?” Nico recalls.
To help create that empathy, he’s brought together a star-studded cast that includes Silwerskermfees winners Jacques Bessenger (Fynskrif, Warrior), Stian Bam (The Story of Racheltjie de Beer), Aphiwe Sithole (Poppie Nongena), Carel Nel (Gaia) and Rolanda Marais (Trackers).
Others are multi-award winners Wilhelm van der Walt (Fynskrif) and Leandie Du Randt (Meisies Wat Fluit), Fleur du Cap winner Nicole Holm (Fynskrif), SAFTA nominee Nicola Hanekom (Faan se Trein) and 2022 Young Artist Academy Award winner Caleb Payne (Good Life), as well as Silwerskermfees Best Actor nominee Edwin van der Walt (Wonderlus) and newcomers Steph van der Merwe and Marko Vorster.
“I started writing extra scenes for people after seeing their auditions,” says Nico about the cast. “These actors just make you sit up and pay attention.”
Nico describes Donkerbos as “a story about how almost everyone fails the most vulnerable members of society – children – but there is hope in the men and women who keep fighting, despite the odds.”
Erica says Donkerbos is both “the best thing I’ve ever read in Afrikaans” and “the darkest thing I’ve ever done.” Sanda had to rely on Google translate for much of the screenplay but is similarly excited. “This one just hits different,” he says. “My word, this story will pull you left, right, centre, up, down, to all the corners! You won’t know what’s coming. You just haven’t seen anything like this.”
Jenni Baxter, co-founder and editor at SAPeople, agrees, calling the series “dark, mysterious and marvellous.”
She adds, “If you liked Mare of Easttown, you’ll love Donkerbos. An absolute world class production from South Africa, packed with intrigue, laden with emotion and delivered by a stellar cast who switch seamlessly – in a bonus for viewers – between Afrikaans, English and Venda. I never expected to LOVE this so much! It’s gripping. A must must-watch!”
The Donkerbos trailer is available to watch on YouTube.