Skin I Live In, The (2011)

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The Skin I Live In reviewStarring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Alamo

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

The Skin I Live In is not your typical “horror” movie; in fact director Pedro Almodóvar describes it as “a horror story without screams or frights.” Which is a bit awkward for a movie calling itself a horror story.

The Skin I Live In follows the story of Dr. Robert Ledgard (Banderas), who is a very prominent plastic surgeon, having performed many successful face transplants and incredibly risky facial structure surgeries. Dr. Ledgard has a secret, though: a young woman named Vera (Anaya), whom he is holding captive at his estate in the country. Kept constantly in a full body suit and without human contact other than Ledgard, Vera has shown to be a risk, trying to kill and mutilate herself regularly.

Vera is the subject of Dr. Ledgard’s illegal experimentation to create perfect skin, skin that cannot be burnt or easily punctured. Skin that he is growing in his laboratory. However, his secret goes much deeper. As the demons from his past come back to haunt him and his every decision, we learn the truth about Vera and where she comes from and how Dr. Ledgard came to be in possession of her.

The Skin I Live In could have been a wonderful movie, taking us on a journey of destruction via a modern Dr. Frankenstein, doing “God’s Work” in his own mind; but it suffers from some serious overacting problems from a few characters, most notably Zeca (Roberto Álamo), whose acting style is oddly reminiscent of a hyper dog. His entire segment could have been cut if not for the emotional turn it takes Vera and Dr. Ledgard on, propelling us into the second half of the movie, wherein we learn of the doctor’s losses and his own depravity.

Which brings us to the pacing of the film. The first 40 minutes play out in a linear fashion; we follow along and feel like we are going somewhere. There is genetic mutation, illegal experimentation, abduction, rape and even a death. However, The Skin I Live In comes to a sudden screeching halt as we get 10 minutes of flashback and then flashback-flashback to six years earlier, which I admit I was lost on for several minutes because I missed the subtitle telling me…six years earlier.

The movie then plays out the next 40 minutes catching us up, finishing the story of Dr. Ledgard losing his wife and daughter and revealing Vera’s story, which again suffers from some weak acting and awkward pacing. Not to mention that at this point the medical experimentation and the modified skin lose their focus as we move into character drama territory.

That being said, the second half is where the real “horror” comes in. While you might not see it as horror at the time, it’s in the days and weeks afterward as you think about the situation (which I won’t spoil) and what Vera goes through, putting yourself in her place, when the fear elements come into place. It plays out a touch predictably, but it becomes a curiosity which you must view to its conclusion.

The two halves of this movie are essentially their own stories and could have played out as such, but in this non-linear, extended flashback way, it becomes disjointed and removes all character development. We aren’t going on a journey with these characters; we’re just being shown vignettes. The ending comes fast and abruptly with an unsatisfying and ambiguous postscript that borders on groan-inducing.

Banderas and Anaya do as good of a job as they can with a script that does them no favors, and I might go so far as to say it’s the most intense and watchable I’ve found Banderas since Desperado. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter; The Skin I Live In has no real message and very little symbolism to actually stand behind with a story that depends on the viewer to process and fill in the blanks. I’d have to say skip it.

1 out of 5

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