The offbeat sexual thriller Acting toys with reality better than any other film in recent memory. Directed by Sam Mason-Bell, who co-wrote the feature with star Annabella Rich, the story follows aspiring actress Una (Rich), who lands the role of a lifetime. Una is given the lead in a project about a female serial killer. She reads over the script and practices at home.
Then someone knocks on her door. Una tells this man, an escort named Stuart (Dan Rad), to go upstairs while she males him a drink. Smash cut to Una rehearsing the script in front of her mirror. Then the spotlight turns up on Edward (Callum Beeson). Back to the encounter, after some flirtatious banter, Una asks Stuart to strip. Smash cut to her rehearsing. Interject more of Edward’s relationship to Una. Her sexual exploitations with the escort ratchet up and even become violent. Is all this just her imagination running wild as she explores her character and the script? Is Una acting out these violent scenes in real life to prepare for the role?
“Is Una acting out these violent scenes in real life to prepare for the role?”
Trash Arts, the British production company behind Acting, is known for genre entries, having created Millenial Killer, Lonely Hearts, and Monstrous Disunion, to name a few. The interesting thing about all these titles is while ostensibly horror, they are all different examples of the genre. And Mason-Bell has never produced anything quite like this before. The way the director weaves through each narrative is incredible, ensuring audiences never know the baseline reality, and that is where the suspense comes from. Did Una murder someone, or did she only imagine the fatal encounter? It is riveting.
The story structure means Una is in every scene, and for some 90% or so of the feature, she is the only one on-screen. As such, Rich has to shoulder much of the burden of keeping the audience enticed and intrigued. Luckily, she is up to the task and delivers a hypnotically strange performance. While the character never quite comes off as human, that seems to be part of the point. The odd mannerisms and cold dispassion Rich displays as the narrative goes full steam ahead signify how the further Una inhabits the role, the closer she gets to her dream, the further removed from empathy and humanity she becomes. The actor delivers a layered performance that hints at all that and more.
Acting is an unusual beast and not for everyone as the lack of a traditional narrative, and the fractured timeline make following Una’s arc tricky. In fact, it took me watching it twice to fully appreciate and understand everything going on in the film. Annabella Rich delivers a star-making performance, and Mason-Bell has crafted a tightly wound, engaging thriller that rewards viewers upon rewatch after rewatch.
"…a tightly wound, engaging thriller that rewards viewers upon rewatch after rewatch."