Starring Ray Stevenson, David Oakes, Aura Garrido
Written by Jesús Olmo and Eron Sheean (screenplay)
Directed by Xavier Gens
Reviewed at Popcorn Frights 2018
Historically, the film villain has often been presented as “The Other” – a foreign and therefore menacing presence, that because of their mystery makes the perfect unfamiliar antagonist. These “others”, frequently presented as monsters or creatures, usually victimize our beloved heroes, who are typically human. While there have been many films that challenge this trope, such as The Shape of Water (2017) and even Frankenstein (1931), it is still the most popular conception of the film villain that can be identified. In his 2017 film, Cold Skin, Xavier Gens approaches “The Other” as sympathetically as the aforementioned films, establishing hatred and fear of “The Other” as the true monster in his film. Cold Skin is a loose adaptation of the 2002 novel of the same name and tells a story that proves the value of compassion.
Cold Skin follows Friend, an Irishman who travels to a desolate island in order to work as a meteorologist and also as an opportunity to isolate himself from everyday society. Upon arriving, he meets the other only inhabitant on the island, Gruner, who is rather cold and unfriendly. Friend begins to realize almost immediately the strange happenings around him, and soon finds a journal that belonged to his predecessor which depicts the existence of strange, violent creatures on the island. As the story unravels, Friend and Gruner establish a hesitant and often combative relationship with each other, and one of the creatures Gruner had previously domesticated, for the sake of protecting themselves against the other creatures who attack every night. Friend believes Gruner to be too hostile towards these creatures, but Gruner believes aggression and hatred is the only way to survive against his supposed enemies. Cold Skin is not only a story of survival, but of an unlikely connection that ultimately defeats the one true evil on the island – hate.
Here’s the thing – Cold Skin is the underwhelming result of many well done individual elements that just seem to amount to a disappointing sum. For instance, the film is brimming with wonderful performances from Ray Stevenson as Gruner and David Oakes as Friend, and even our main sea creature, Aneris (played by Aura Garrido). The characters’ exasperation bleeds effortlessly through the screen, and their reluctant cooperation with each other is effective in creating tension that can be cut with knife.The creature design is remarkable and convincing, comparable to the creature design from Del Toro’s The Shape of Water of the same year. The decision to keep them humanlike in form allows the audience to better sympathize with the creatures, while still establishing them as foreign beings that are potentially dangerous. Cold Skin also looks breathtaking and accomplishes a damp, bleak atmosphere with landscape shots of the barren island constantly being overthrown by waves crashing on its rocky cliffs. The film feels cold and is at least effective in instilling a sense of hopelessness in all those who watch it.
Still, the movie filled with lovecraftian promise somehow falls completely flat despite all of its outstanding elements. The film (again very much resembling The Shape of Water) is supposed to be about the evil that is born out of hatred and fear of “The Other”, which challenges the traditional presentation of “The Other” as the villain. While it half-accomplishes this by presenting Gruner as entirely despicable, Cold Skin hardly gives viewers the opportunity to get to know the other creatures. Aneris spends a lot of time on screen, but the other beings are only really shown as villainously attacking the humans until the very last act of the film. Also, being set in the brisk South Atlantic does not justify the glacial pace at which the film moves, which may be the most harmful element to the films effectiveness. To put it frankly, Cold Skin becomes dreadfully more boring the longer it runs. Its saving grace is a rather impressive final 20 minutes, but is otherwise completely about Friend and Gruner resenting each other during the day and together fighting off these supposed evil creatures at night.
The most disappointing films are those with the potential to be incredible with minor alterations, and Cold Skin is a perfect example of that. Unfortunately, the film as a whole is not greater than the sum of its parts – parts that could otherwise be put together to create a true masterpiece. A story about loving those around us despite differences for the sake of survival, it takes a promising concept and doesn’t seem to know exactly how to execute it in an engaging or entertaining way.
A story about loving those around us despite differences for the sake of survival, Cold Skin presents a promising concept that falls a little flat.