Pedro Almodovar goes in a very interesting and different direction with his latest film ‘The Skin I Live In’. I’ve always seem him more as a melodramatic filmmaker, making feature length soap operas almost than someone capable of what he does here. Essentially, he’s tackling body horror, something I’d more associate with David Cronenberg than Almodovar. Free of the melodrama and romance, this is a real arthouse horror flick that doesn’t go for the gore, but still manages to have an “ick” factor to it. He manages to do it in a way that never seems like he’s playing in repetitive territory, and it helps that he got a hell of a performance from Antonio Banderas. It’s a top 5 acting job by Banderas and elevates the film from an interesting but unremarkable change of pace for a veteran filmmaker into something that pretty much demands to be seen. If you can handle the bizarre nature of the flick (it’s a strange take on the age old ‘Frankenstein’ tale, specifically the idea of a mad scientist, and with some gender identity issues thrown in), you’ll probable like this oddly little movie quite a bit.
The plot concerns Dr. Robert Langdon (Banderas), an unhinged but well regarded plastic surgeon. Because of a car crash that severely burned his wife, Langdon is rather obsessed with creating (and then perfecting) a new synthetic skin that’s impervious to any form of damage. The idea here is that this skin would have protected his love from the flames. Over a decade into his research, he believes he’s got it and just needs to test it out. The manner in which he chooses to do this is rather odd, involves taking a prisoner, and is incredibly unsavory. To reveal too much more would be to spoil the many surprises, but just know that you likely won’t see many of the twists coming, and the film is a better cinematic endeavor for that.
In a weaker year, Antonio Banderas would be in the Best Actor conversation, at least in terms of a nomination. He’s a rather long shot right now, but that takes nothing away from the quality of his work here and mostly speaks to the strength of the category this year. Banderas exudes an intensity here that I’m not used to seeing from him. This is about as far a cry from ‘Puss in Boots’ as it can get, in every conceivable way. I’ve rarely seen him be better than he is here. As for the supporting actors and actresses, we have Elena Anaya as the mysterious captive that is the object of Dr. Langdon’s obsessions and Marisa Paredes as the housekeeper who becomes an accomplice. Both are very strong as well, giving their all to something that could have descended into camp with the wrong cast. Also on hand are Jan Cornet, Roberto Alamo, Eduard Fernandez, Jose Luis Gomez, and Bianca Suarez, but the real highlight of the cast is of course Antonio Banderas.
Of course the main reason most audience members will see this is because it’s an Almodovar film. Writing and directing (from a novel by Thierry Jonquet), he gives this the emotional intensity it deserves. You’re just as involved in the body horror here as in the family strife of something like ‘Volver’. I think very few people will consider this to be a top notch work of his, but it’s definitely in the upper echelon when it comes to pure entertainment. His writing is on par with his usual work, if somewhat less witty, but his direction shines as expected. In many ways, this is still an Almodovar type film. But when it’s not, oh boy is it not…
‘The Skin I Live In’ is an indie take on the type of horror films that don’t get made much anymore. While it’s a little over the top at some points and not paced as well as it could have been, it’s twisty and different enough to satisfy most viewers. If for no other reason than the performance that Pedro Almodovar culls from Antonio Banderas, this is a film worth seeing. On the whole, it’s not necessarily the best film I’ve seen all year (it’s in the upper tier of the my 3 star reviewed flicks though), but it’s certainly one of the most unique. If you don’t think you’ll be disturbed by some of the body horror moments (though nothing is too bad), it’s likely that you’ll be pleased with what the legendary filmmaker has to offer this time around.