Fantasia Film Festival 2018 Review: COLD SKIN

COLD SKIN, the latest from director Xavier Gens (The Crucifixion), based on the novel by Albert Sanchez Pinol, centers around a young man who encounters deadly creatures near the Antarctic Circle. The film stars Aura Garrido (The Ministry of Time), David Oakes (Victoria) and Ray Stevenson (Thor). COLD SKIN had its Canadian Premiere July 15th at the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival.

The film opens up to a sprawling view of the ocean and a steamship headed towards a desolate island in the Antarctic Circle. We are introduced to a young man (David Oakes) who is being transported to this secluded island to take over as the new weather observer. Upon his arrival, he comes in contact with a weathered and slightly deranged man named Gruner (Ray Stevenson), who hints to our protagonist that he should have stayed on the boat. The young man quickly realizes the depths and reasoning behind Gruner’s madness when he learns of the existence of a group of dangerous sea creatures. For the next 12 months, these men must do whatever they can to survive against the dangers presented on the island and the mounting tension and paranoia towards each other.

COLD SKIN is an interesting movie that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. It definitely takes some cues from horror master H.P. Lovecraft, not only in the environment that the film takes place in, but also in the design of the fish-like creatures. As a massive fan of Lovecraftian lore, one would think that I would have loved this, but alas, that was not the case. That’s not to say that director Xavier Gens didn’t give it his all, he most certainly did, but I felt at the end of the day, the overall execution was jumbled. The film does do a good job of addressing the judgments we place on those that are different, but I felt the message got lost in translation when the director introduced the sexual desires that these two men had towards the creature.

This is the third movie in the past 12 months that has featured a human fucking a fish-like creature. My apologies for being so blunt, but it’s true, and I assure you I’m not going out of my way looking for this. If the point of the film was to use these creatures as a metaphor for acceptance, I think it would have been better served not to show it in a sexual scenario. Aside from our two male leads, actress Aura Garrido portrays the main creature Aneris and she does so wonderfully. With that said, it was hard enough seeing the mistreatment she faced at the hands of Gruner, which made me wonder if their sexual relationship within the film was consensual or if this was another shining example of male domination.

Even with that said, the film did have some positive aspects going for it. One of my favorite being the ever-mounting tension between our protagonist and Gruner. As the young man watches Gruner become more and more unhinged, we see how he begins to form a bond with Aneris. The growing relationship between these two allows him to have a better understanding of these creatures and their motives. However, it becomes clear that this is a point of contention with Gruner and it becomes blatanly obvious when he does specific things that could yield dire consequences. I think the film would have suffered greatly had the chemistry between actors David Oaks and Ray Stevenson not been there.

Before I wrap up my review I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the beautiful cinematography by Daniel Aranyó, as well as the overall production design. The film, which was shot in Spain and Iceland, is just as picturesque as it is cold and distant. I applaud director Xavier Gens for not relying solely on green-screens and CGI, instead using the landscape around him to bring this story to life. It’s also important to note the score, composed by Victor Reyes, which is grand and commanding, allowing the audience to be sucked into this unknown adventure from the start.

Overall, COLD SKIN is a mixed bag of horror and fantasy that has some moments that really shine through despite some of the more unsavory ones. I think what director Xavier Gens was trying to achieve through this film was commendable but in the end, I think it got lost in the waves of too many trivial moments that weren’t necessary for pushing the story along. I’m always a fan of movies that promote acceptance towards that which we don’t understand, and I truly believe Xavier Gens had the intentions of doing that, I just think it got a bit lost on the way.

Shannon McGrew
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