Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Running Time: 120 mins
The Skin I Live In (La piel que hábito) is a Spanish film about a brilliant but traumatised plastic surgeon who uses his skills to create a new type of skin, far stronger than that of humans, after his terrible experiences with burn victims in the past.
This film is a really uncomfortable watch. And I mean REALLY uncomfortable. Sure, it’s a thrilling, riveting and very unpredictable throwback to body horrors of the 1950s and 60s, slickly directed by Pedro Almodóvar and featuring some excellent central performances, but the direct and graphic way in which it depicts its incredibly disturbing story makes for an unbelievably uncomfortable watch that’ll have you squirming away from the screen time and time again.
The best place to start here is probably with the man that makes this such a brilliantly painful film to watch: director Pedro Almodóvar. As he’s proven again and again, he’s a director that knows almost no bounds, whether it comes to mixing classic film genres into modern day, or pushing the limits of how graphic you can make a mainstream film, but that’s why he’s able to make such stunning movies as this one.
Above all, The Skin I Live In is somewhat of an homage to an old horror genre of the 1950s and 60s. Although we’re used to modern horrors being filled with blood and guts, this unique body-horror genre is something that’s all the more disturbing.
As far as throwing back to the genre goes, however, you have to say that Almodóvar does an incredible job here. Along with taking some obvious elements from films like Eyes Without A Face, the film is so slickly directed, with each frame full of tense and unsettling but visually dazzling light. Almodóvar doesn’t hold back when it comes to some of the more squeamish elements of the film, but in that he does the body-horror genre brilliant justice, and along with his slick and modern visual style, it all makes for a thoroughly exciting, albeit slightly painful watch.
As well as the direction, the music in this film is integral to making such an unsettling atmosphere throughout. Ranging from piercing and terrifying instrumental music to hauntingly beautiful vocal melodies, the music in this film is the most subtle yet incredibly effective technique to make everything even more disturbing. Whilst the graphic nature of the film will definitely have you shying away from the screen, it’s the music that will get right to your core, affecting you in a deeply painful way that modern horrors never manage to pull off.
Then it comes to the performances, which are absolutely fantastic. Antonio Banderas does an amazing job in the lead role, bringing the suave and clearly brilliant edge to this surgeon, all the while subtly showing the darker and more dangerous aspect to his character. His performance, alongside that of Elena Anaya, is key to making you feel both uncomfortable and scared in this film. As horrible as the physical horror is here, the monstrosity of some of the characters’ actions make for even more terrifying viewing.
Finally, the story. It’s fair to say that this is a masterfully written film. Based on the novel ‘Tarantula’ by French author Thierry Jonquet, the way in which it toys with your emotions is simply amazing. Whilst the elements of its plot are consistently shocking and horrifying, the story’s structure is most effective in making an already terrifying story even more affecting. It’s not a chronologically-ordered plot, which means it’s very hard to talk about in-depth without spoilers, but suffice to say that the shifts in time double the power and effect of everything in this film, making everything you’ve already seen feel even more horrible, and everything to come even more scary.
Overall, it’s fair to say that The Skin I Live In really isn’t a film for the faint of heart. Whilst it’s beautifully and slickly directed by Pedro Almodóvar, and features an ingenious screenplay, score and performances, its graphic nature and unrelenting ability to shock and scare you in the most uncomfortable of ways is its real triumph. It’s not a nice film, and I definitely didn’t enjoy watching it, but as far as making a modern body-horror goes, there’s no film better than this, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.5.