Movie Review: "The Skin I Live In"
Published: Friday, October 28, 2011
Updated: Friday, October 28, 2011 12:10
Like Prince, it seems Pedro Almodovar has moved to a one-name basis: the credit in front of "The Skin I Live In" advertises it solely as "A Film by Almodovar". And that may be fair enough, as his status as an auteur has never been clearer than it is here, where even though he constantly quotes directly from his influences, such as "Frankenstein" and "Eyes Without a Face", he never sheds the dominant themes (of homosexuality, trans-sexuality, and the subversion of identity within such choices/changes) for a single second.
Working with Antonio Banderas again for the first time in many a moon, Almodovar constructs an eerily creepy horror film of sterilized tools, monstrous art works (Banderas is constantly framed in front of, and dwarfed by, nude portraits), and subversive sex (it's impossible not to assume that Pedro is a very big fan of David Cronenberg's masterful "Dead Ringers"). There are few films in which a rape scene qualifies as a minor primer for the horror to come, but "The Skin" certainly qualifies.
As Dr. Robert Ledgard, Banderas portrays a master surgeon (and apparently a very capable scientist) who aims to create the perfect artificial skin. I hesitate to reveal any more than that; the film slowly unspools its mysteries through a carefully constructed (yet still tongue-in-cheek) series of flashbacks and flash-forwards.
What we do know is this: Ledgard is suave, debonair even, and entirely sinister. He keeps a woman locked up in his home for testing purposes; their relationship remains a mystery until the flashback-laden 2nd act.
The brilliance in Almodovar's film is in the way he's constantly turning us over in disgust while never for a second losing sight of his theme of identity. Banderas opens the film with a speech on how our appearance defines us as people, and Almodovar spends the entirety of the running time deconstructing that statement to study its truth (or lack thereof). The scares in this film are not about being killed, or mutilated, or tortured, it's about having your very identity taken away.
Many will compare this film, which wears you down with shocks before hitting you with the "big one", to Park Chan-Wook's similarly twisted revenge thriller "Oldboy", and I'm not sure that comparison is very far off (when you subtract, of course, Almodovar's patented soap opera style of delivery.)
While his pacing remains somewhat languid, the shocks within are more than enough to carry interest for two hours. I apologize for the near-total lack of plot summary here; I assure you the only worthwhile way to enjoy this film is with a completely blank slate as to its mysteries.
Almodovar has put together its horror film, and while it may be privilege, power, obsession, identity, and playing God that scare him more than ghouls or serial killers, its horrifying all the same. New release horror films have been somewhat dreadful this Halloween, so if you have a strong stomach (and an open mind) there really is no option other than "The Skin I Live In".