It's been quite a year for waterlogged inter-species fantasy/horror movie relationships. We've recently had the gloriousness of The Shape Of Water. I have heard good things about Blue My Mind. And here we have Cold Skin, the latest film from the talented Xavier Gens.
A man (David Oakes) arrives at a remote island to take on a role made vacant by the death of his predecessor. Once the ship he arrived on sails away, he is left with only one man for company (Gruner, played by Ray Stevenson). But Gruner stays in his lighthouse, with good reason. Because the island is invaded at night by aquatic creatures that seem to want to hurt/kill/eat the two human inhabitants.
Working best during the first third, Cold Skin is part siege film, part creature feature, and part psychodrama looking at human nature when in a perilous situation not a million miles away from The Divide (also by Gens). There are moments of impressive tension and a couple of nice revelations that, while not entirely surprising, start to paint an interesting picture. Things then settle down a bit, moving further away from the simple genre pleasures to show viewers the mindsets of the two men, and also the involvement of a third party (played by Aura Garrido). I also enjoyed all of this section but it seems obvious that not everyone drawn into the start of the film will be kept enthralled by how the rest of it plays out.
Gens directs the hell out of the material, and the film gets top marks for the visual style throughout, which is gorgeous, and also the very impressive sound mix. The script, by Jesus Olmo and Eron Sheean, based on a novel by Albert Sanchez Pinol, is good, but not great. It works best when crafting tension, be it on a small scale between the two human islanders or showing swarming invaders at night trying to get closer and closer to their prey, and then suffers slightly when trying to explore the impact of the loneliness and the strain on our leads.
Acting-wise, Oakes and Stevenson both do good work, and Garrido deserves praise on a par with other talented performers that we often find hidden under hefty prosthetics. The film doesn't reallly give us anyone else to spend time with, crowds of night-time visitors notwithstanding, but nobody does anything you can complain about.
Those seeking a straightforward horror movie will end up disappointed. I know that I had to recalibrate my own expectations when I realised that I wasn't going to be getting quite the Lovecraftian standard I somehow thought it was going to be. Is it better for moving further away from that field and looking at things with a very different perspective? I'm not sure, but I suspect it's ultimately more interesting. And we'll still always have Dagon.
You can order the disc here.
American friends may want to order the book here.