On the heels of my latest review of “Getting Grace” and how much I enjoyed it,I went back to the red bins and pulled out another blind buy from my local Dollar Tree,a film called “Cold Skin”. And just like “Grace”,this wasn’t a complete blind buy as I saw that French director Xavier Gens had made “Cold Skin”and that was the hook I needed. I have reviewed two films that Gens has worked on,”The Crucifixion” which he directed and “Hostile” which he produced. Both films were outstanding and I suspected “Cold Skin” would continue that run.
The cheetah and I headed downstairs to take a peek at “Cold Skin”…….
The film opens in the year 1914 as a narrator’s voice belonging to a young Englishman named Friend (David Oakes) explains that he is taking on a trip to a isolated island in the South Atlantic for an entire year. He is replacing another man who was also a meteorologist. The only other human on the island is a lighthouse carekeeper named Gruner (Ray Stevenson).
The captain of the ship goes to Gruner to pick up the other man but Gruner explains the other man had died of a illness and who may have swam out to his death. The captain is disgusted by the filthy conditions of the lighthouse and tells Gruner to clean the place and himself up. He then proceeds to go back to Friend who has moved into the ramshackle cabin about a half mile away from the lighthouse.
After wishing Friend luck and helping him put his gear and supplies in the cabin,the captain leaves and Friend is on his own. Friend attempts to meet Gruner but is repulsed when Gruners tosses his piss down towards him and Friend retreats back to the cabin.
That night as Friend settles down,he hears noises outside the cabin and when he starts to investigate,he sees a blue hand groping under the front door. Friend,who had read the previous man’s diary about strange creatures outside the cabin,had dismissed the story as the ravings of a unstable and lonely man. Now he sees the tales are true and as the hand gropes the doorwell of the cabin,Friend stabs it which injures it and a sound of chattering is heard around the cabin before withdrawing.
The next day Friend approaches the lighthouse again asking for help and again is rebuffed by Gruner. Friend then attempts to fortify the cabin and we see he wasn’t left defenseless as he has a pair of rifles and quite a bit a of ammo.
The night falls and the strange creatures return and return in force and attack the cabin. Friend holds them off,killing and wounding many and just as it appears he has fought them off,the cabin catches fire and he has to flee it. He suffers a badly burned hand in his escape but the fire drives back the creatures.
The next day Friend follows Gruner down to a shallow waterpool where he spots one of the strange creatures,Friend is going to kill it when suddenly Gruners cries out to him not to shoot. He explains the creature is his and is tame like a pet dog. Friend is then startled when the creature approaches his shyly and licks his burned hand which causes it to heal.
Friend offers to share his supplies and more importantly,his weapons and 1,800 rounds of ammo in return for shelter. Gruners asks if he has vodka but Friend only has gin to share. The two men make several trips to recover Friend’s gear and they have to move fast because its almost dark….as they enter the lighthouse,Gruner starts to explain what is happening.
The creatures attack at night in waves and now with all the fresh ammo,Gruner is hoping to kill them all,he is using his creature to lure them in and her chattering at night brings her fellow creatures to the light and they will fight until they are done. The first night completely overwhelms Friend’s mind and he retreats into the lighthouse which angers Gruner.
The next day Gruner tells Friend he’ll be doing menial jobs until he can pull his weight….so Friend is stuck doing the cleaning as he looks at Gruner’s creature. The creature is female and is shown wearing a old bulky sweater and acts just like a dog who has been beaten as she shies away everytime Gruner even so much as looks at her.
The next night arrives and once again Gruner fires a flare and makes his creature cry out which brings her people. As Friend and Gruner start fighting,this time its Gruner who backs away and forces Friend to defend himself. Gruner is surprised to find Friend still alive and the shift of the dynamic is changed. While Friend continues to fight with Gruner at night,he also starts to reach out to the creature and gives her a name,Aneris (Aura Garrido). The two interact with each other and Friend slowly discovers more and more about the creatures while Gruner gets jealous.
When Friend discovers a ship that has run aground,he and Gruner come up with one master plan that will hopefully end the attacks once and for all. But will Gruner’s jealous nature allow this plan to work and what will happen if it fails because while Friend’s relief is due shortly,the two men are running short of supplies and might not last long enough to see that relief……
Okay,I am going to say it,Xavier Gens is one of my favorite directors. “Cold Skin” is a beautiful film and while my synopsis may seem action heavy,”Cold Skin” is not a action film….it is a look at a man who after meeting a “enemy” decides to try and understand them enough to seek to co-exist in peace. He is sickened by the horrible carnage he has wrought and he doesn’t even understand why its happening. When Friend (and the viewer) finally realizes who and what Aneris represents,its far too late to undo what has been done. Gens does a wonderful is allowing us to actually get to know these two men and at a deep level.
Gruner has become so bitter and narrowminded,he has come to see things in only white and blue and he won’t change for anyone,no matter what. Long term war will do that to people and co-writers Jesus Olmos and Eron Sheean’s script drives that point home. Blind hate which is often driven by unbased fear causes some damage and we have to be able to try and understand the other side and the reasons we wage war.
Cold Skin which was filmed in Spain,is absolutely beautiful to look at,the setting looks just like a windswept South Atlantic Island with its barreness and freezing cold. Even when you find out that filming was done in the heat of the summer,watching the actors react to what is supposed to be a brutal winter,will have you putting a extra blanket.
The cast is wonderful,Oakes and Stevenson work very well together,Friend and Gruner are two complex characters and required two very good actors to show that each man had his strengths and many weaknesses. I was impressed with how Stevenson was much restrained,he didn’t play Gruner as the loud blowhard but as a man trying to hang on to the only thing he was left with by his long ordeal. Gens has a great eye in casting his women actors and “Cold Skin” is no different. Aura Garrido has no speaking lines because of her species but her acting is done with movement and her eyes. She gives Aneris and through Aneris,her people,a real soul. These are not monsters,they are smart and have deep emotions and Garrido is their face,we see and feel what they do.
“Cold Skin” is unrated but I would recommend it a “R” rating for themes and violence. The run time is 96 minutes and special features include a Behind the scenes featurette. This is a Sony release and you can find a copy at their website or find a copy at your local Dollar Tree during one of their film sales.
The cheetah and I gave “Cold Skin” two thumbs/paws straight up.
Feel free to leave a comment below!!!
I am co-hosting a livestream show on YouTube called “The Midnight Hour” where we talk all things film. The show starts
at 10:30 pm EST on Sunday nights. You can find the show by clicking here.