May 19, 2019

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Dizzying debut delivers cinematic noir

With its glamour and riches, the movie industry has long been a dream for many of us. Even to be on the fringes, without a lot of fame or the money, can seem exciting or, at the very least, not dull.

It’s in these fringes where the characters live in Toronto-based writer Andrew Wilmot’s debut novel. His previous work includes screenplays, book reviews and short stories for various anthologies. He is also a freelance academic editor who specializes in body dysmorphia and eating disorders.

The story is told through a clever series of script excerpts and blog posts by a character we only meet as “M____,” a cancer-riddled movie extra and obituary writer with more than just a passing interest in the macabre.

Through the blog posts, we also meet “D____,” the titular actor who has appeared in hundreds of films and died in them all.

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With its glamour and riches, the movie industry has long been a dream for many of us. Even to be on the fringes, without a lot of fame or the money, can seem exciting or, at the very least, not dull.

It’s in these fringes where the characters live in Toronto-based writer Andrew Wilmot’s debut novel. His previous work includes screenplays, book reviews and short stories for various anthologies. He is also a freelance academic editor who specializes in body dysmorphia and eating disorders.

The story is told through a clever series of script excerpts and blog posts by a character we only meet as "M____," a cancer-riddled movie extra and obituary writer with more than just a passing interest in the macabre.

Through the blog posts, we also meet "D____," the titular actor who has appeared in hundreds of films and died in them all.

M____ presents D____ as a true artist, a method-style actor who embodies the minor characters he plays. The pair meet on a film set and begin a dangerous romantic relationship, or series of relationships under the guise of the various characters they play in multiple films over the next several months.

Or, more likely, the relationship is just a one-sided obsession of someone slipping further from reality and ­edging closer to death.

The blog then becomes a viral sensation and the mysterious pair achieve a unique kind of cult fame. Or not. We can never tell for sure, thanks to our questionable narrator.

As blog readers, we only get M____’s side of the story, which includes details of their visits with a therapist, altercations with the death scene artist’s agent and mutilations of young women that supply "skins" for our narrator to wear on set.

Violent and grotesque, this book is not for the squeamish.

But there is a lot for fans or topical horror and dark comedy. Wilmot clearly has something to say here about our culture’s obsession with celebrity and our desire to overshare online, as well as gender identity and loneliness.

The blog post format seems a bit gimmicky at first, but actually fits the story quite well.

Wilmot has a visual arts degree with a minor in film and video studies, and his love of cinema is clear. A couple of key scenes, and surprisingly touching moments, even take place in an abandoned drive-in theatre.

In film terms, The Death Scene Artist is a bit like Silence of the Lambs crossed with Robert Altman’s Hollywood satire The Player, perhaps directed by Crash-era David Cronenberg.

Alan MacKenzie is a Winnipeg-based writer and occasional actor who has died onscreen twice.

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