The Skin I Live In Review
If Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was written in 2011, I suspect it could have come out something like Pedro Almodóvar’s melodrama – something which might evoke the subtitle of her work: ‘Or, The Modern Prometheus’. The Skin I Live In makes use of that classic cinematic and literary archetype – the mad scientist. Almodóvar apparently describes The Skin I Live In as a horror without screams or frights. Unsurprisingly, he has quite a good handle on his own creation. I didn’t jump once, nor was I ever ‘scared’ in the classic sense – but I was truly unsettled.
The plot revolves around Dr Robert Ledgard (a truly sinister Antonio Banderas, the villain of the piece) and his ‘patient’ Vera. Seemingly having succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome a little, she has been imprisoned by Ledgard to be his human guinea pig for his newly developed (burn resistant) artificial skin. Ledgard, a brilliant physician motivated by the death of his burn-victim wife and his daughter’s subsequent descent into insanity, engages in activities to further his aims that are both morally and professionally questionable. The character is a direct thematic descendant of Victor Frankenstein, albeit with a better touch for aesthetics. For fear of ruining the horrors that unfold in lengthy flashback (as I feel other reviews have done), I won’t delve into some of the other themes swirling around as the plot develops. Needless to say, everything is not as it may seem.
If you buy into the premise, particularly as it progresses to its full horror and insanity, then you will undoubtedly like this film.
The story is very well constructed, the use of flashbacks not being trite. It is used to good effect, furthering the plot and revealing details in the precise order Almodóvar requires, and with the same level of style you would expect from him. The soundtrack is something I would expect from a silent-era film, and suits the tone perfectly. There are also many moments of irreverent and dark humour (although quite why the folk right next to me in the cinema were guffawing like apes is anyone’s guess…) punctuating the intensity to make it a little less unrelenting.
The film’s biggest hindrance is also what makes it good – the plot. If you buy into the premise, particularly as it progresses to its full horror and insanity, then you will undoubtedly like this film. If you don’t then you will be left cold. However, I did, and as a result I enjoyed the film immensely with my jaw dropping on more than one occasion. You could argue the superb build up lacks a good pay off at the film’s conclusion, but that would certainly be nit-picking in a film that delivers the best Antonio Banderas performance in years.
Well worth watching, the sheer intensity and insanity of it all could bring it crashing down upon itself. Almodóvar, however, impressively reins it in to deliver a satisfying and well-constructed story of vengeance, identity and loss.