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From the London Film Festival: ‘Pickups’ Starring a Maybe Murderous Aidan Gillen

Aidan Gillen plays Aiden, a fairly successful actor who is frequently recognised on the streets from his television and movie roles. He is approached by fans often and enjoys the attention. He also has a somewhat strained relationship with his son. And he just might be a serial killer.

Pickups is a very unusual drama/horror film. The majority of the film seems to engage with the effect of celebrity culture on a person’s private life. The actual murders initially appear to be scenes from a film he is making, with an off-screen director providing instructions. However the director and crew are never seen, making the reality of these scenes very questionable.

Gillen gives an excellent performance as the troubled actor. He captures a wonderful awkwardness in his interactions with members of the public and his friends and family. There’s a constant uncertainty around everyone’s expectations which creates real tension. One scene in which Aidan is approached by an increasingly irate fan is viscerally unpleasant. Supporting performances are also excellent. Antonia Campbell-Hughes is entirely memorable in her brief appearance as Aidan’s friend. They play off each other’s discomfort very well.

It’s certainly an experimental film, with dream sequences and fantasy blending into reality. The affect is to create an unnerving horror film infused with psychological drama that really does capture something of the loneliness and awkwardness of modern life.

The scenes I found myself the most interested in were not the violent murders but rather the scenes in which Gillen interacts with his son. In truth, I feel the film was altogether more successful without the strange horror sequences. The disinterested narrator who provides mundane details regarding Gillan’s inner monologue established a playful but grim tone that they could have explored more fully. Ultimately I’m just not sure what the point of Gillen’s murderous activities were. As a character he was already interesting enough.

The experimental nature of the film will frustrate some as they attempt to discern the real from the invented, but for me it’s far more important that the mood of angst and quiet desperation is vividly portrayed.

3 / 5

Paul Salt is the co-host of the podcast One Good Thing.