Meet Melchior, the master in Horisonne

By Gen Terblanche2 June 2023

Meet Melchior, the master in Horisonne

A stern school teacher, a brush with military brainwashing, a taint of the unholy … Chris Chameleon shifts colours to become cult leader Melchior in Showmax film Horisonne.

Showmax film Horisonne pits manipulative cult leader Melchior van Staden (Chris Chameleon) against the one who got away – his abused former partner and fellow psychologist, Melissa Human (Elma Postma). It’s a battle of wits in which Melchior seems to be holding all the cards, including the queen: Melissa’s long-lost 18-year-old daughter Adri (Deoudoné van der Merwe).

Melchior has been grooming Adri to take Melissa’s place in every way imaginable, but the moment Melissa comes knocking at his door at Melchior’s “wellness retreat”, Horisonne, Adri goes from being his number one, to becoming the cruellest tool he can use to get Melissa back under his thumb.

Chris Chameleon plays the manipulative cult leader Melchior van Staden in Horisonne
While Melchior singles out Adri for special treatment, Chris warns he sees her as “as useful to him as her life will permit.”

Asked to imagine Melchior as a house, Chris muses, “I suppose the house would be white on the outside, white on the inside. White walls, white furniture, white carpets, white curtains and white appliances. The only colour in it would be what he puts there due to his human non-negotiability – the colour of his skin, hair, excretions and blood – all of which he will do his best to hide, in order to avoid the revelation of that which he can’t control.”

For someone like this, Melissa represents a crack in his illusion of perfect omniscience and control, something Melchior revels in when we meet him at Horisonne. Now read on as Chris reveals how he slipped under Melchior’s skin.

Finding his essence

“I’ve been blessed with a life of great variety in 33 countries and encounters with uncountable individuals. Some people make a solid impression, and I find myself occasionally channelling the mannerisms of some of those people for some characters. For Melchior I’d have to go far back. Although not intentionally, I sometimes found myself channelling aspects of a teacher I had in agricultural school in the early 1980s,” says Chris. “He was a frighteningly intimidating individual with a razor sharp intelligence, a piercing stare and an imposing physical presence to boot. The awareness that I am doing this invariably comes after the fact. It’s something I notice after the fact, not something I intend, going into a role.”

For Chris, the surrender of self that Melchior demands of his followers is horribly familiar. The closest he’s come to it was in military service. “I was a military conscript in 1990. I went AWOL five weeks into what was intended to be a year and a half’s ’service’. The pressure there was strong. The military tries to break you down so that it may reconstruct you into a tool to suit its functions. That was the most pressure I’ve ever felt in that regard. I don’t think it worked, at all.”

“But then there are the subtler ways that are more ubiquitous, and generally more successful,” Chris adds. “There is a social pressure, which has its own peculiarities, depending on your social environment. These are narratives, ideas and signals that people get coerced into by subtle, but terribly pervasive and enduring pressures, which often drive them towards an unrecognisable version of their own true values or beliefs.”

His voice is my voice

“Melchior’s voice and moves are my voice and moves,” says Chris. “I read the script, embed the lines into my subconscious, and then have the character manifest through me, so that my body and my voice are merely the vehicles. I don’t have to analyse anything, or wonder how to do it, I can just be me, because for the moment I am not me, I am Melchior. I’ve immersed myself in him,” he explains.

“Where I do spend a little time thinking, is in terms of rhythm and pitch. One has to do this to safeguard against staid rhythms. Acting is actually very much like music, in terms of managing emotions and flow with pitch and rhythm.” Chris’s musicality is clear in the calm, hypnotic rhythm of Melchior’s snake-charming voice, especially when he’s luring people into hurting themselves for his pleasure.

Horisonne is on Showmax
Melchior was a monster long before he started manipulating Melissa at university.

A skin suit for demons

Chris needed to get to grips with how this particular monster emerged in Melissa’s world. “I have spent a lot of time thinking about this, not specifically in relation to Melchior, but to psychopaths in general,” he says. “About 20 years ago I read a biography of the daughter of serial killers Fred and Rosemary West. I couldn’t fathom what made them into the monsters they would become. The closest it came to an explanation was that Fred got a head injury after a fall, which changed his personality. But what about Rosemary? I believe some people have the misfortune to become vehicles for demons. Others are seduced by demonic promises of powerful rewards. It all comes down to fear and vanity. It’s part of the human condition and we all suffer the temptations, but some resist less than others,” Chris explains.

He believes that Melchior was a monster long before Melissa met him. “The template for his destiny was set before that, she only influenced it inasmuch as she was part of the scenery en route,” he says.

Horisonne is a Showmax film
“They are objects to him, furniture, pawns, accessories, tools,” Chris says of Melchior’s faithful flock at Horisonne.

Women, objects and animals

As all knowing as Melchior sets himself up to be, controlling the world of Horisonne as he watches everyone from his zen panopticon, the physical moment of Melissa’s return into his world when he comes face to face with her still shocks him – but blink and you’d miss it.

“He has been expecting it, because he planned it and his calculations foresaw it, but in that very moment, it still comes as a surprise, which he conceals with expert deception,” says Chris. Mischievously, Chris sums up what he wanted to bring to this moment as “entertainment”.

In comparison, Adri’s simply the prize among Melchior’s cult flunkies. Chris reveals that to Melchior, Adri is “as useful to him as her life will permit.” In general, his Horisonne flock are meaningless to him. His manipulation of them, total, successful and even predictable. “They are objects to him, furniture, pawns, accessories, tools. Their value is limited to the realms of the utilitarian,” says Chris.

He believes that to Melchior, Horisonne is a playground for appetite. “It’s the same as a porn user’s goal is with porn. It is a vehicle for the satisfaction of a desire that can never be satisfied. For all his intelligence, he remains trapped in a very low-level base impulse. He is an animal. A clever animal, but an animal nonetheless.”

Horisonne has laid out its battlefield between the baptism pool and meditation maze for a grand psychological showdown. Winner takes all, loser will crawl.

Watch Horisonne now on Showmax.

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