2 June 2023

Horisonne: Psychologist cult showdown

Elma Postma analyses her psychologist character Melissa in the Showmax film Horisonne.

Psychologist Melissa Human (Elma Postma) is searching for the daughter she was forced to give up during her abusive relationship with a fellow university psychology student, Melchior van Staden (Chris Chameleon). Thanks to a tip-off from her serial killer patient Alywn Bekker (Wessel Pretorius, who wrote Horisonne), Melissa finds out that Melchior now runs a cult masquerading as a wellness centre, Horisonne. When Melissa realises that Melchior is grooming people to kill, she sets out to stop him, only to find out that one of the women in his power is her lost daughter, Adri (Deoudoné van der Merwe). Desperate, Melissa decides to infiltrate Horisonne in this psychological thriller directed by André Velts.

Melissa is a damaged woman making compromised decisions. But she’s also one who’s brave enough to walk into a fresh hell created by the abuser she barely escaped. Now Elma puts her character on the psychologist’s couch for a little analysis.

Origin stories

“When I did the audition, I already felt that this role was just sitting right in my skin, I don’t know why. This movie and character were different from anything I’ve done in my career before,” says Elma.

The world of Horisonne rang bells thanks to a documentary series that Elma had watched just the week before she auditioned, Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey. The documentary explores what women had to do to escape a fundamentalist Mormon sect led by Warren S Jeffs that demanded their complete submission to male authority and trapped them in sexual exploitation. Elma had also seen the 2018 documentary Wild WIld Country, about Indian guru turned cult leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh whose promise of community masked financial exploitation.

“Both are about people being promised a new life, a good future, but in the end falling for someone or something that is all about money and power (mentally and otherwise), or being taken advantage of,” says Elma. “The reality of this is that the situation in this movie isn’t new. Young people, people in relationships, are being manipulated because they are targeted as being weak. People like Melchior give them something to live for. Hope. A future. But they are, in the end, just part of a sick person’s power-hungry game.”

Finding Melissa

“I had many discussions with Andre Velts. And the script was so well written by Wessel Pretorius, that I instinctively knew where he wanted to go with the characters. What also supported me was the look of the character – comfortable, no fuss, and movable clothing and hair,” says Elma.

“To emotionally prepare, I took from my own life experience and ideas I had about my character and relationships. Thankfully I haven’t been in any situation close to this specific story. But looking back at previous relationships when I was much younger and more insecure, one does tend to become more of a someone you think your partner wants you to be – to be accepted, to be loved. Only afterwards you realise, ‘Okay, that was happening. I can suddenly be myself again, I feel relieved and free’. There are different degrees of this behaviour in relationships. But if you see this happening, I suggest that you re-evaluate your reasons for being with someone,” Elma warns.

Melchior and Melissa vs Dezi and Liam

For 7de Laan fans, Horisonne offers a dark-sided reunion for the soap’s former lovebirds Dezi (Elma) and Liam (Chris). “I was really excited to work with Chris again after about 17 years. I knew that he would bring a lot of ideas and preparation to the table,” says Elma. “Chris gave such an interesting and powerful performance that it was easy to feel and do all of this. I trusted him completely.”

Melissa certainly has no such trust going into her reunion with Melchior, a man who broke down her psyche. “She didn’t feel accepted and appreciated by anyone, or good enough, until he came into her life,” explains Elma. “He made her believe that she should fit into his mould of how she should be. He also ‘supported’ her when she wanted to get Adri back, which made her stay for a while until she realised what hold he had over her. I think she loved him very much, or so she thought, and that’s why he could manipulate her easily. He remade her into someone with no confidence, someone who can be mentally controlled by a stronger personality. She had no self-worth and no hope for the future.”

Luckily for Melissa, there was a stone of resistance in her. “She got to a point where she knew that she had to break free of Melchior – or she would die. I think a lot of women go through mental and emotional abuse, but choose to stay because the other one ‘will change’ or ‘loves’ them. Luckily there is something in her core – a drive, or the decision that she couldn’t be manipulated anymore. Enough was enough,” says Elma.

Deoudoné Van der Merwe plays Adri in Horisonne
Melissa desperately tries to save her stolen daughter, Adri, from Melchior’s clutches

Not without my daughter

While Melissa carries mental scars from her past, in the years away from Melchior, she has built a new life, however flimsy it may be. “She went to London for a few years and worked there as a psychologist. She couldn’t make any other relationship work after Melchior, but she has definitely grown into someone who is confident in her work and relationships with patients, as you can see with Alwyn,” says Elma.

But Melissa was never able to let go of Adri. “Adri is her daughter, who she had to give up for adoption because she was too young when she had her and not in a position to take care of her. She realised early on that she made a mistake but couldn’t get her daughter back. She’s driven by guilt and regret, and her only chance of getting Adri back is by saving her from Melchior. She couldn’t save her before; now is her only chance,” says Elma.

Wessel Pretorius plays serial killer Alywn in Horisonne
Wessel Pretorius, who wrote Horisonne, plays serial killer Alywn – seen here with a Shakespeare quote he scratched into the wall of his asylum cell

Devil in a box

If Melissa has to make a deal with the devil to get Adri back, so be it. In her case the devil is a patient of hers, serial killer Alwyn Bekker, who offers her insight into how Melchior is manipulating his own flock. Alwyn offers Melissa the opportunity to view Melchior through the lens of his own arrogance, rather than from the position of fear and submission she had during their relationship.

“She’s been working with Alwyn for a while and they enjoy each other’s company, in a weird way,” says Elma. “She finds him interesting and fascinating. And he feels that he can mentally challenge her in interesting ways – she gets him – she enjoys their conversations and she really wants to help him not to end up in jail. Not that she’s convinced he is innocent, but if he goes to jail, she might ‘lose’ someone who has a big impact on her life. This isn’t really a healthy relationship (once again she is being manipulated), but it is strong enough that she will trust him enough to know that he won’t hurt her.”

Just how far that trust will take Melissa is going to shock you!

Face to face

Melissa’s plan to infiltrate Horisonne goes sideways almost instantly, and from the moment that Melissa and Melchior come face to face, it’s game on! Elma wanted to show “that she’s stronger than before and she knows, after all these years of experience, how to handle manipulators like him. But I also wanted to show her vulnerability. She’s mentally ready for a meeting with him, I think, until she sees Adri, which is a sudden shock and new information to handle. Melchior, being her first ‘love’, having such power over her in the past, will always have some power if she gives in to it,” she says.

If Melissa had her way, Elma says, “I think she would want him to disappear completely, even the memory of him.”

Instead she’ll have to settle for destroying his dreams, with a little help from a friend.

Watch Horisonne on Showmax

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