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DIFF Review: A mega low budget psychological horror

2015-07-23 13:28

Film: The Actor
Directed by: Aiden Whytock
Starring: Aiden Whytock, Heidi Bottcher, Shannyn Fourie, Greg Parves
A white mask stained by a drop of blood. This was the opening shot of actor and director Aidan Whytock’s The Actor. And it’s significant for the motif of the movie – exploring the masks actors wear in character. When actors go method, they become so immersed, blurring that the line between reality and make-believe.

The Actor explores this train of thought in a very interesting style. Viewers get to see different sides to the protagonist Simon (Whytock). On the one hand he is in ambitious actor and, on the other, he tries to be a good father. 

The story has a strong supernatural overtone, where, in Simon’s attempt to clinch an audition, he succumbs to the darkness of the character. The actor can’t seem to separate himself from his character, and the demon possessing him.

What’s also interesting is how the director uses sound design and imagery to propel the theme of the actor being possessed. Working on a shoestring budget of R49 000 isn’t without serious challenges for the director. No doubt with a bigger budget, Whytock would have invested in some special effects for his psychological horror. 

But, with the use of dark lighting and distortion of the camera angles, he managed to create a suitably scary atmosphere – a mirror to Simon’s darkening soul and his violent acts spiralling out of control.

Simon also finds himself confronting his fears and his buried emotional anger. Some of these emotions are directed towards his ex-wife Emily and some are aimed at his agent Nathan. 

As his possession grows stronger, he loses more and more of himself. While he cannot remember his actions the next day, the camera becomes his reality, captured for him to see.

There is an unmistakable sense of loss; a sense of desperation, and, rather interestingly, a yearning for change. Simon wants to change that struggling (more like stagnant) actor perception to one that is more flattering. It’s a yearning of most actors: to be successful; to make their loved ones proud. 

He desperately seeks approval from Emily, Nathan and Sarah, his 12-year-old daughter. He wants the kids to be proud of the acting pedigree they come from.

Sadly, in taking on the sinister role, he undoes everything he tried to make right.

The concept of making a movie within a movie is interesting. Many of the shots are of Simon speaking to the audience through the camera. While he does so and becomes married to his mask, symbolically and literally, his daughter watches on, in the hope, that the “real” him will surface again.

This mask then poses some interesting questions: is it a good or bad thing, is sacrificing his soul worth it?

That’s where the words of Oscar Wilde, quoted at the opening and the end of the movie, echo once again: “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.”  

* Isabella Akinseye is the publisher of Nolly Silver Screen magazine, Nigeria's leading film publication. Talents Press is a programme of Talents Durban at the Durban International Film Festival which sees 40  film makers from Africa and the diaspora gather for 5 days of workshops, seminars and masterclasses 

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