Aden (Nabhaan Rizwan) is a young actor who’s been struggling through audition after audition with little to show for it – when we meet him, he’s playing a dead body on a TV cop show. There doesn’t seem a way out of the miserable, demoralising production line until a new flat mate, Conrad (Amir El-Masry), arrives in his life and starts bowling everyone over with his infectious self-confidence. If Aden could channel even a fraction of it, perhaps that’d be just the thing to kick start his career…
In Camera, the feature debut from writer-director Naqqash Khalid, treats the audition process as a profoundly inhuman, destabilising ordeal, something that seems more punishment than vocation. Aden is invariably referred to by number rather than name. Any questions he asks about character or motivation are condescendingly waved off; the people in charge of the process rarely bother to even look him in the eye. Aden keeps finding himself crammed in a gloomy audition holding area with other young Southeast Asian men dressed exactly the same, occasionally looking upwards towards the only source of light as they wait to be called; whether intentional or not, it’s reminiscent of the ‘The Claw!’ vending machine scene from the first Toy Story movie. Talk about dehumanising.
Considering the relentlessness of the assault on his identity and self-worth, it’s no wonder that Aden spends much of the film walking around like a zombie, his soul seeming to have left his body ten or twenty auditions ago. The way Rizwan plays this, in a dead-eyed monotone that still silently screams with exhaustion and frustration, is both technically impressive and surprisingly moving. On the rare occasions when Aden does get to emote, as when he’s able to make a real connection with a woman (Josie Walker) whose dead son he agrees to stand in for in a therapy exercise, you can feel the near-ecstatic relief of him doing what he came into the profession to do in the first place.
There are subplots here that are less effective, primarily the one focused on Aden’s flatmate, Bo (Rory Fleck-Byrne), a junior doctor suffering from his own career-related exhaustion. Although the most visually striking set pieces of the whole production are arguably those centred around him (the best among them an unnerving dream sequence where his hospital building starts pouring blood all over him), it’s difficult to parse just what function his character serves in the story; his scenes are never boring, but it often plays as if they come from a different film entirely.
More conducive to the action is El-Masry’s Conrad. Whilst his character doesn’t quite transcend his function as a plot device, El-Masry is always fun to watch (and has enormous range – this is worlds away from his star-making performance in Limbo), and the uncanny valley of his larger-than-life persona makes a neat foil to Aden’s drained husk.
Whilst it doesn’t quite all gel as one cohesive, satisfying whole, for the most part In Camera is an inventive, engaging exploration of the rigours of acting and the dehumanisation inherent in a profession built on its supposed grasp of humanity.
IN CAMERA will have its UK Premiere at BFI London Film Festival on 13 October
– Friday 13th Oct at 6pm at BFI Southbank NFT1
– Sunday 15th Oct at 6:15pm at Curzon Soho Screen 3