A Film a Week - Cold Skin / La piel fria

North Atlantic, 1914. As the Great War is about to begin with its bloodshed, a young weather scientist is taking his post on an inhabited island for the period of one year. Since his predecessor is nowhere to be found, and the only other human on the island is a lighthouse technician named Gruner (Ray Stevenson, glimpsed in Thor films) gone (slightly) mad, it seems it is going to be a long year with not so much work to keep him busy and with his collection of books and his log as the only company. What our civilized nameless hero played by David Oakes (of TV series The Borgias fame) does not know yet, is that the island is infested with amphibian humanoid creatures swarming at night and attacking both him and Gruner. Two men must form an alliance in order to survive, but it is more complicated than it seems.

Written by Jesús Olmo (known for 28 Weeks Later...) and Eron Sheean and based on Albert Sanchéz Pinol’s Spanish-language novel of the same name, Cold Skin is a modestly budgeted Spanish-French co-production filmed in English with intentions of global appeal. The film was directed by one of the later-stages members of New French Extreme Cinema movement, Xavier Gens who made his name with his debut Frontier(s) in 2007. only to fall into the pattern of international mediocre genre filmmaking with computer game adaptation Hitman (2007), post-apocalyptic jump scare-fest The Divide (2011) and yet another exorcism-themed movie The Crucifixion (2017). With Cold Skin, Gens was more lucky than skillful to come at the same time as Guillermo Del Torro’s The Shape of Water and, sharing the topic of romance between humans and amphibians, to serve as its companion piece.

The trouble is that the film goes nowhere fast just as soon as the two men team up to shoot the creatures from the top of the lighthouse. They are both one-dimensional characters, with our hero being somewhat humane and scientifically curious regarding the creatures and Gruner being a misanthropic madman, speaking of himself in third person and having openly genocidal tendencies while keeping one female creature as his pet and sex slave. The endless shoot-outs night after night with always the same type of dynamics between two of them wears out its welcome pretty quickly, while the plot developments towards the end of the film do not help much.

The most intriguing part of the film, the creatures, are not being explored in any way even if the writers and the director have one specimen on disposal throughout the film. That female named Aneris and played by underused Aura Garrido might be the most interesting and complex character in the film, but is demoted to the point of conflict between the two “frenemies” and even the duality of romance and sexual exploitation serves only to make their personalities more apart from one another.

The context of WWI stays completely unused for other purposes than to show us an array of equipment and weaponry from that period of time, so the story could theoretically have taken place anytime between Columbus and early Cold War. There is a metaphor of colonization and exploitation somewhere (the same type of questions “are they humans or are they animals” were popping out in the racial theories from that period of time), with the WWI being the last colonial war, but here it is a long shot.

Visually, however, the film looks nice, with compelling special effects and intelligent creature design. Cold Skin also profits from location shooting on the black rocks of Lanzarote and Iceland and the cinematography by Daniel Aranyó and production design by Gil Parrondo belong to a better piece of filmmaking than this one.

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