Skin... everyone's got one, except that guy dangling from the tree in Predator. The word has developed a stigma and a deviant curiosity in Hollywood: Mysterious Skin, Skinwalkers, 'skin flicks' - it would be rash to think The Skin I Live In, a film that nabbed a spot in Quentin Tarantino's Top Ten Films of 2011 could cure that little niggling 'skin' problem.
Renowned filmmaker, Pedro Almodovar, knows how to make your skin crawl. The director of Talk to Her, Broken Embraces and Volver also knows how to captivate an audience... layering his stories in the shadows of the human condition, going where directors fear to tread. He's done it again, giving The Skin I Live In a strange ebb-and-flow, tilting from drama to thriller to body horror without really flinching.
In case you were wondering, there's a lot of skin in this art house rendition of Frankenstein. In this scenario, Dr. Frankenstein is a world-class plastic surgeon played by Antonnio Banderas and his "monster", the subject of all his skin experimentation, a mysterious and beautiful woman, ironically brought to life by Elena Anaya, whose credits include Van Helsing.
There are some strong parallels with Splice, both films exploring a motivation to play God through transgenic research, manipulating practice ethics in the name of advancing the possibilities of mankind. Splice reimagined the Frankenstein concept from a scientific perspective, while The Skin I Live In frames the story from the operating table.
Almodovar's film is a transgenre affair, taking the audience on a journey that constantly mutates. Smart use of editing puts us off balance as we pick up the pieces to this drama thriller that manages to attract bizarre elements as diverse as romance, mystery and horror. It's a riveting experience that never lets you go... and once it's sunk its teeth into your skin, there's no turning back.
The teeth-sinking process will hurt some viewers more than others, with some creepy, disturbing and violent content. For the unshakable, Almodovar's film is visually stirring and taut, reminiscent of David Lynch's Blue Velvet. There's a fascinating and disturbing undercurrent... the sort of curiosity that makes it easy to watch animals kill or mate with each other on nature channels.
The actors throw their bodies into the film like puppets and Almodovar makes this a real director's film, generating emotionally-charged and committed performances from Banderas, Anaya and the supporting cast in Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet and Roberto Alamo. The scenes range from intense drama to deviant sexuality and there's never really a dull moment.
While the whole film cascades from one powerful scene to another, Almodovar's trademark romantic aspect is downplayed and the performances are stunted without room for the full spectrum of human emotion - trading love for insanity - an element that probably would have taken the story to the next level.
All in all, it's great to see filmmakers reaching for and achieving new ground, whether it's Antonio Banderas breaking the typecast mold or Pedro Almodovar going deeper into the darkness with a film twist to compete with The Sixth Sense and Fight Club. While The Skin I Live In only appears to be skin deep, it pushes boundaries and leaves its mark - whether a beauty spot or scar, that's for you to decide.
The bottom line: Captivating