FILM REVIEW: COLD SKIN
I would consider myself a fan of director Xavier Gens, even if I do find his career somewhat hard to define. My first introduction to the director was with his brutal, no-holds-barred, cat & mouse thriller FRONTIER(S). In fact, I think it was the only film to be slapped with an NC-17 rating during After Dark Films’ After Dark Horrorfest. I loved the film, and I knew this was a director to keep my eye on. Immediately following the underground success of that film, the director went on to tackle a popular videogame property, a nuclear apocalypse, a horror anthology, exorcisms, and now…a melancholy tale of lost souls and bloodthirsty creatures in COLD SKIN. Like I said, a difficult career to define. His films always deal with horror, but his latest offering is probably the furthest departure from the genre we know and love.
COLD SKIN is the story of a nameless man (David Oakes) seeking solitude on an island during the opening stages of WWI. It’s a dark brooding tone from the opening, with old-timey steamships and quotes from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It’s clear that this man is running from something, as evidenced by his long-winded voiceovers. The man is delivered to the island, and his cottage is in shambles much to the alarm of the crew delivering the man to this desolate place. The man is informed that the only other inhabitant on the island is the lighthouse operator clear on the other side. The crew is reluctant to leave, but after reassuring the crew that he can handle himself, the ship and its crew depart and our narrator gets ready to settle in.
Once the sun goes down, the man is left on his own to fight a nearly instantaneous barrage of creatures descending onto the cabin. Although we don’t really get a good look at the creatures, it’s clear that there are a lot of them and they are pissed off! The man is able to fight them off, but not before accidentally burning down his cabin during the fray. Luckily he is able to hold out until morning when the creatures retreat back into the darkness. The man has no choice but to venture to the other side of the island to track down the lighthouse operator.
The man traverses the rocky terrain and eventually comes to the lighthouse, which is heavily fortified with crude-looking sticks and spears. Upon entering the lighthouse, the man comes face to face with the disheveled and disgruntled operator named Gruner (Ray Stevenson). Gruner seems mostly interested in the stranger’s ammunition, tobacco, and other provisions as he informs the man of the almost nightly attacks that happen on the island. It’s at this point that we see the reason why…Gruner has a small female creature that resides in the lighthouse as his pet. This is when things go from just plain weird, to having sex with a mysterious blue sea monster weird. Why is this the year of aquatic sea monster sex? I’m looking at you THE SHAPE OF WATER.
Anyway, the film then becomes a battle of wits, personalities, and forbidden love, as the two-men-and-a-creature co-exist in the lighthouse. It also becomes a literal battle as the two men fight off waves of creatures that descend on the lighthouse in progressively more intense attacks. COLD SKIN is a slow burning descent into madness. It honestly reminded me mostly of the recent AMC series THE TERROR, both in aesthetic and tone. It’s a cold tale, and it felt like it was heading in an interesting direction, when in just becomes a little repetitive, and forgive my pun…shallow.
The film doesn’t quite live up to the existential quandary we were promised. It starts off strong as an exploration of characters descending into madness, and the creature elements are pretty cool. It becomes a little long winded, and just plain weird as the chemistry between the characters is played out. I found the 108-minute runtime to be a bit long, and I also found myself chuckling at the films third act revelations that I suspect were meant to be a bit deeper. I’m told that the novel of the same name is a bit more meaningful, and takes the characters in some dark directions, but I can only judge the film on what’s in it, and not what it was based on. The film aims to show us the monster in all of us, and the monsters we try to keep at bay. Those monsters are both literal and metaphorical, but some of the creature romance and character interactions really cheapened the impact for me. All in all I actually enjoyed the film, but I doubt I’ll go in for another dip.
COLD SKIN is currently playing in select theaters (check your local listings) and is available on digital platforms and VOD now.
“A melancholy tale of lost souls and bloodthirsty creatures”
2 1/2 Tombstones out of 5…