After a busy day of training for my new job some workmates and I chose to partake of this enigmatic thriller from auteur Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, a film that has garnered plenty of deserved critical praise.
It’s clear from the start that there’s something not quite right going on in The Skin I Live In. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas, reuniting with the director for the first time in two decades) is an influential plastic surgeon who has recently perfected his creation – a new type of skin impervious to heat and insect bites. His research could have dramatic implications but for the unethical nature of illegal transgenetic techniques. His secret test subject is Vera (Elena Anaya) a beautiful prisoner in his private home clinic. Ledgard’s ambitions struggle with his own desires and his mysterious guinea pig is restless to be let out but unexpected events open up unsettling questions about sexuality and identity that takes her down disturbing avenues.
The Skin I Live In is another film that will divide opinion. The quality of the acting and direction, not to mention the script speak for themselves but a film this downright weird is certain to put people off. Things first start to get creepy when a criminal dressed like a Mexican wrestler with a Tiger fixation shows up at the house/clinic claiming to be the son of the housekeeper (Marisa Paredes) and takes a fancy to Vera resulting in sex and death. But it is the backstory of Ledgard that will slowly get under your skin.
We learn about Ledgard’s wife who committed suicide after being horrendously burned in a car crash and his mentally disturbed daughter whose first opportunity to do a bit of socialising outside of her treatment hospital doesn’t go too well. Then there’s a young man on whom Ledgard exacts a cruel and deeply unpleasant revenge. There’s a big twist in there that will likely define your opinion of the movie entirely but whatever your reaction to skin crawling events (and believe me there will be a reaction, especially for men) it’s worth noting the skill with which the reveal is made. Instead of rug-pull shock like The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense, the revelation here comes slowly the first clues gradually developing into something clearer that will guide your imagination to places you don’t want to go. Before suspicions are confirmed by a very stark cut you’ll be in denial because it’s just too damn gross. It all builds into a strangely but powerfully emotional conclusion that will make you wonder what the hell you would do in that situation.
With brilliant cinematography, camera angles and a subtle, slightly unhinged score there’s a lot to like about the film as a piece of art but Banderas is probably the greatest joy as he quietly and superbly brings to life an insane monster with serious issues all over the place. Do not expect anything close to Zorro.
Beautifully crafted and artistic with great performances that bring an unpleasant and uncanny story to vivid life. Another film that you won’t forget whether or not you enjoy it.