Review: The Skin I Live In (15) / Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar / Screenplay by: Pedro Almodóvar, Agustín Almodóvar / Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet / Release Date: Out now
Pedro Almodovar is one of the most acclaimed directors to ever come out of Spain. His films often tread some very uncomfortable melodramatic territory so it’s a wonder he has never made an operatic horror film before. The Skin I Live In, whilst being familiar to many of Almodovar’s established art-house fan base is essentially a horror film that works hard to make you uncomfortable and has some difficult subject matter not usually seen outside of South Korea.
The film begins with Vera (Elena Anaya) a beautiful but suicidal woman being held captive by prominent plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) at his thoroughly modern home. Vera’s beauty is a direct result of Ledgard’s experimentation with transgenesis, a technique for creating perfect and artificial skin and Vera has reached the end of her treatment. Ledgard lives with his housekeeper Marilia (Marisa Parades) who urges Robert to dispose of Vera before he is found out. When Marilia’s criminal son shows up and takes a liking to Vera, this leads to a violent reaction from Robert. Through flashback we then learn of the obsession’s driving Robert and the truth behind Vera’s existence.
This plot summary is probably only the first twenty or so minutes of the film and is all I am going to reveal. Part of the terrible beauty at the heart of The Skin I Live In is watching the story unfold and how it surprises you with its revelations and character development. The film manages to balance perfectly the melodrama in much of Almodovar’s work and introduce a new Cronenberg esque cold detached body horror element reminiscent of Dead Ringers. Along with much of the countries' recent output this is a further example of how Spain is producing the best genre filmmaking anywhere in the world right now.
Antonio Banderas started out in Almodovar’s films and then went Hollywood where they tried to turn him into a megastar with mixed results. Back working with Almodovar again after so long, Banderas reminds us all why we liked him in the first place. Here he puts in some great work and with not a lot of dialogue conveys a world of pain and simmering anger just below the surface which threatens to explode at any minute. Elena Anaya has been a small bit part player in some Hollywood productions but due to her work in this film (and because she is gorgeous) super stardom cannot be far away. Anaya has the showier role here and has to play a character that begins with our sympathies but also becomes a figure of disgust and has an incredibly complex arc. Anaya does all the heavy lifting with ease, flipping between sexy compliance and devastation. The other central performance at the centre of this film is Marisa Parades as the housekeeper Marilia. This character has her own revelations as the plot unfolds and is the medium between the two extreme characters of Ledgard and Vera and has a world of conflict within her.
The tricky structure is both a strength and at times a weakness of this film. The decision to tell the horrifying tale in mostly flashback is necessary for the full horror of the story to be effective. If it was linear it just would have felt like shock for the sake of it. Almodovar is too smart a filmmaker to be like someone like Tom Six for example, and tells a shocking tale skilfully without resorting to cheap shock tactics. Although this is one of the film's great points, around an hour into its running time you may be scratching your head and wondering what is going on. The more impatient viewer at this point will either abandon the film in favour of something with more violence or will be so invested in the strong performances and characters that they will wait until the rewarding and moving conclusion.
If you are not a fan of Pedro Almodovar’s previous work do not be put off by this. The Skin I Live In is incredibly smart and adult filmmaking from one of the masters of the medium.
Extras: Behind the Scenes, Somerset House Premiere Feature, Production Photos, Theatrical and Teaser trailers.