The Skin I Live In – La piel que habito (2011)
(15) Running Time: 117 mins
Reviewed By: David Gillespie (HCF Artist)
The poster for Pedro Almodóvar’s gloriously depraved thriller/ horror/ melodrama/ black comedy boasts of a must-keep secret twist. Perhaps this is due to the fact that all credibility that this twisted yarn has built unravels and deflates when this revelation is revealed. But make no mistake, this is one of the most finely crafted, if not frustrating, pieces of horror to grace the screens this year and it never lets the viewer go until the credits roll.
The story introduces us to Vera (Elana Anaya), a beautiful but troubled young woman who appears to be kept captive in a room within the mansion of brilliant plastic surgeon, Ledgard (Antonio Banderas). We learn that Ledgard has been experimenting on Vera with a synthetic/ pig hybrid skin that is stronger and smoother that that of a humans. The big question is, who is this mysterious woman? Could it be his wife that supposedly died in a fire many years before or someone or something else?
To reveal too much of the story would ruin things as there are countless twists, turns and setpieces thrown into the mix to keep the viewer engrossed. We are introduced to Ledgard’s pychopathic monster of a brother, Zeca (Roberto Alamo) and the catalyst of all the trouble. Having just robbed a bank and then hiding in a local carnival, he prances around the mansion in a tiger costume conveying a comical but extremely threatening presence. He also has an unhealthy obsession for Vera and the scene where he hunts her builds the tension up beautifully. We learn more about Ledgard’s wife, his mother (Marisa Paredes), his daughter’s mental condition and her tragic relationship with a local boy, Vicente (Jan Cornet). The final third has the story’s big twist and revelation. It is at this point that the movie goes into full horror mode with touches of the Human Centipede and David Cronenberg body horror thrown in for good measure.
The first thing that any cinema lover will discover and appreciate while watching this project are the lavish colours and incredible cinematography on display. Almodóvar has an incredible eye for detail, references to other classic directors and lingering images, some beautiful and some repellent. One particular scene that I can’t get out of my head is the wall sized screen that the doctor has installed in the adjoining room to Vera’s cell. The camera pans behind Ledgard as he stares at the beautiful Vera who is watching him right back. Almost willing him to enter her web. It is incredibly passionate and powerful moment.
This leads to the superb performances of the main players, Antonio Banderas and Elana Anaya. Banderas plays it straight for the most part and never resorts to the pantomime villain that could have ruined the film. His character is tortured and burdened with regret. Although incredibly rich and gifted, Ledgard escapes the horrors of his past by burying himself in his work and obsessing over his stunning captive. Rather than a raving mad scientist, he is a sympathetic character driven to insanity by his failure to save the things he loves most. Elana Anaya is a true beauty and a fine actress too. She brings a vunerable but feisty power to her role as Vera. You never quite know what her true intentions are to Ledgard. Does she truly love the man who has imprisoned and experimented on her all these years or is she stalking her prey and manifesting a false sense of security before she strikes. All supporting actors are excellent. Special note has to go to Ledgard’s mother, played by Marisa Paredes. A bitter and broken woman who has witnessed her family fall apart and is considered by her son to be more of an employee than a blood relation.
The only letdown are the moments of melodrama and horror that occasionally create an unintentional laugh due to the absurdity of it all. The is a high quality project but with a b-movie monster fable at its core. Some members of the cinema audience laughed during the final moments. The last scene which should have created emotion and tension has possibly translated badly as it hits the funny bone rather than the heart. But make your own mind up. I will be revisiting this twisted little gem for the journey and the fantastic scenery on the way. My favourite horror movie of the year – so far.
[pt-filmtitle]The Skin I Live In[/pt-filmtitle]