‘Ape’ Brings Mental Illness Nightmares to Life

Short of the Day

A harrowing and compelling short starring and directed by Josh Hutcherson

The most terrifying facet of extreme schizophrenia, I think, is the idea that the line between reality and delusion can at times not exist, that even though your senses might tell you something’s wrong or off, your mind won’t translate it into meaning. You learn you can’t trust yourself, basically, and that, to me, is the most frightening thing I can think of. We each are, at the end of every day, our only arbiters of the truth, and to learn you’re incapable of always telling or always accepting that truth from yourself must be its own kind of private hell.

Now, of course, I am describing an extreme sort of the disease, not everyone who suffers from schizophrenia suffers to that degree as there are in fact several medications that can help those afflicted lead normal lives. That however, is not how it’s manifesting for Travis, the teenage subject of the short film Ape, directed and starring actor Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), who is battling his hallucinations for control of his reality, and short film shorter, he’s not winning.

Ape is a part of a really interesting project called The Big Script, which is a collaboration between Conde Nast Entertainment, Hutcherson’s own Turkeyfoot Productions, and Indigenous Media that aims to discover and bring to mass audiences “independently created content that can thrive on digital/emerging platforms” so long as that content is “driven by unique voices.” For this initiative five scripts about adolescent or young protagonists were selected from a pool of 2,000 and their writers were mentored through the filmmaking process. Ape was written by Jon Johnstone and marks Hutcherson’s first time behind the camera.

As a story, Ape is rich with depth and a keen understanding of its subject, and Hutcherson’s turn in the director’s chair looks like a triumph from every angle. He seems to understand story and performance are star here and treats the lens like a fly on the way, allowing the narrative to unfold before it. And speaking of that performance, this is a raw, battered role for Hutcherson and he tackles it head on. It’s almost difficult to watch at times, and I mean that as highest praise. I was reminded of Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko, or Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted; Travis is that same kind of character, not weak of will, not at all, but flawed of mind, a character who knows his condition and rages against it to the point of self-destruction. And also like those other roles, I think this is the best I’ve ever seen Hutcherson, and in a new light, to boot.

According to Variety Ape is being developed into a feature. Consider one ticket at least already sold.

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