Cold Skin @ Fantasia Film Festival

My favourite film of the year last year was Guillermo del Toro’s amazing The Shape of Water. Through the magic created within it he made you care for an amphibious creature and believed in the love between it and a woman. Cold Skin attempts something similiar and you are left wondering why someone would do that so soon after del Toro did it so well. What would there to be gained? Especially since the film also uses many of the familiar symbols of the genre, meaning there is not really anything original going on here.

In the year 1914, while transporting his younger passenger, Captain Axel (John Benfield – Speed Racer, Cassandra’s Dream) feels something is not right. That feeling goes through the roof when they finally arrive at the remote island which he has been hired to bring the man (David Oakes – from television’s Victoria) to. The island is near the Antarctic Circle and the man is to act as replacement for the previous weather observer. Axel believes the young man is fleeing something he does not want to deal with. Why else would someone volunteer for such a post? To live in such isolation for 12 months.

When they arrive the previous weather observer is no where to be found. They spy a lighthouse off in the distance and do find a man named Gruner (Ray Stevenson – Thor: Ragnarok, Allegiant) there. He is not very forthcoming about where the weather observer is or anything else really, for that matter. Despite all the warning signs, the man tells Captain Axel to leave.

While living on the pretty much deserted island in the lone cabin there, the man soon realizes that he and Gruner are not alone. That there are also strange creatures there as well. These creatures are not friendly as they attack the cabin each evening looking to kill the man. He manages to ward them off on the first night, but on the second the cabin catches fire and half of it burns to the ground. The man has no where to live and those creatures will be back.

After spending the night outdoors, hidden, the man is startled upon waking to find an amphibious-humanoid creature (Aura Garrido – Stockholm) near him. Before he gets the chance to decide whether to fight or flight, Gruner arrives to tell him this particular creature (it is female) is not dangerous. Relieved, he brings his stash of bullets and sets off to move in with Gruner in the lighthouse. Gruner is not very keen on the idea, but the amount of bullets (over a thousand) the man brings wins him over. Each night the two begin a cycle of warding off the attack by the creatures. Both know that they cannot do this forever. That their bullets will eventually run out. A plan has to be come up with which will ensure their safety.

To say that this film has some holes in it or at the very least leaves plenty unexplained is an understatement. Things are dabbled with and then left to be. Very unsatisfying. Though director Xavier Gens (Hitman, The Divide) tries to maintain an air of mystery around everything going on here it all ends up a little bit frustrating. Most of the time I was just left with questions which there were no good answers to.

At times I was rather confused about what was going on. Was this simply a monster film or was it trying to be a little more highbrow with its Nietzsche quote at the beginning. Is is supposed to be an allusion to the xenophobia which has once again broken the surface in today’s world? It was all so convoluted that I found myself lost in an abyss almost as barren as the island itself.

The film was much better in the moments where it just stuck to the quick and dirty. Where things were just dark and violent. As a film it works in the scenes of the attacks by the fish creatures which were juxtaposed against the man’s growing curiosity (and attraction to the female creature) about them. Even the odd romantic triangle was more interesting than the inhumanity of man angle that was attempted on several occasions.

The visuals of the film is one of its strengths. Despite the fact that it is often very dark and the landscape of the island rather dreary, there is still a beauty there and cinematographer Daniel Aranyo (Biutiful, 7 Days in Havana) captures it all. His visuals are amplified by the excellent special effects. Never do the creatures seem anything other than real and sometimes eerily human-like.

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