Written by Kevin Chicken, Dusan Tolmac
Directed by Kevin Chicken
Perfect Skin is a fascinating study of obsession and the dark side of human nature that uses body modification, including tattooing, to tell the story of a lonely tattoo artist played by Richard Brake, who finds his perfect canvas. I’m a big fan of Rob Zombie’s work as well as the recent film Mandy, so when I heard about a movie about body horror starring Brake, I was immediately intrigued. Even if you missed Brake’s phenomenal performance in 31, he was also The Night King in Game of Thrones. Written by Kevin Chicken and Dusan Tolmac, the London-based Perfect Skin is Chicken’s directorial debut. After making the rounds on the UK festival circuit, Perfect Skin is headed to the United States. Dread Central has the exclusive first review of the film on this side of the pond.
Brake plays Bob, a cordial tattoo artist who is trying to hide his failing health and his marital problems. His client, Lucy (Jo Woodcock), introduces Bob to her friend Katia (Natalia Kostrzewa), who is staying with her because she has nowhere else to go. It is common for tattoo shops to offer piercing and other forms of body modification, so Bob and Lucy discuss a recent piercing he did for her. Later Bob is shown in a brief, terrifying piercing suspension scene that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. Even though I have tattoos and piercings, suspension really gets under my skin.
Lucy not only gives her a place to stay, but she also lets Katia wear her clothes and takes her out to party. When the girls drunkenly stumble into Bob’s studio late one night and ask for tattoos, he respectfully declines. What makes Brake’s performance so chilling is that, like other masked killers in horror, Bob also wears a mask, but his is a human face wearing a broad smile. Brake’s ability to skillfully convey subtle nuances through facial expressions and mannerisms gives both the viewer and Bob’s victims a feeling of false security and you don’t realize he’s wearing a mask until it is too late.
Bob tells Katia that she has perfect skin and offers to design a custom tattoo for her, which she refuses because she doesn’t have any money. Alone in his studio later, Bob methodically sketches several designs for Katia. While Brake expertly embodies a tattoo artist, the tattoos and artwork in Perfect Skin are realistic, beautifully done, and the work of real-life The Family Business Tattoo shop in London.
When Lucy receives word that her mother is seriously ill back home in Australia, she asks Katia to pay the rent for her and leaves her alone in her apartment with the rent money. Katia decides to drink away some of Lucy’s rent money and ends up running into Bob at a local bar. Bob asks the already intoxicated Katia to come back to his studio for a drink, where he drugs her. Katia wakes up inside a large cage in what appears to be a dungeon. Bob’s face only being seen in shadow illustrates how the cinematography effortlessly transitions from dark in the dungeon scenes to surreal color in later scenes, especially those involving tattooing.
Bob drugs Katia again and tattoos her, but the extent of his plans is not clear until much later. The many stunning close-ups of a tattoo needle going into skin are another example of the brilliance of the cinematography in Perfect Skin. There is never anything sexual between them, but Kostrzewa and Brake’s onscreen chemistry makes Bob and Katia’s relationship feel strangely intimate. As he continues to hold her captive and modify her body in increasingly shocking ways, she begins to embrace her outer transformation, signaling that something inside her is changing as well.
The film gives glimpses into Bob’s battle with Parkinson’s disease and his failing marriage, but the focus of the story is metamorphosis driven by Bob’s obsession with achieving perfection. As compelling as the film is, there are minor flaws in the storyline, most notably in the final act. That certainly doesn’t diminish the fact that this is an outstanding independent film. Brake’s riveting performance, the direction, and the work of cinematographer Jim Marks make Perfect Skin absolutely mesmerizing.
Perfect Skin is an extraordinary directorial debut that takes body horror to an unnerving new level. Spellbinding cinematography and Richard Brake’s arresting performance guarantee it will be difficult to get this film out of your head.