When I’m covering festivals, I always engage in bit of internal debate over whether my intros should consist of my typical rambling blather or a more terse, straight to the point version for brevity’s sake. I’ve come down on the side of brevity more often than not because I’m lazy. Sorry if you came here hoping to read that I saw a trailer for a movie and that I then watched a movie and now you can read my synopsis of said movie and my thoughts on the same. Just go ahead and assume that’s the case as I work through the digital library from Fantasia Int’l Film Festival, okay? Oh, and I’m about to write about Xavier Gen’s Cold Skin. So let’s get into it, shall we?
Early in the 20th century, at the beginning of the international turmoil that would become World War 1, a man arrives at a remote island weather station which will serve as his home and job for the next 12 months. He and the lighthouse attendant, Gruner, are the only humans on the island. The man learns that his predecessor probably didn’t die of natural causes when he is besieged by dozens of bloodthirsty amphibian humanoids on his first night. In the morning, he finds Gruner and the seemingly domesticated creature that he lords over. The two men form a precarious alliance but only after the man offers up his tobacco and ammunition. The creatures attack on most nights and the two men fight them off. As their resources dwindle and the “pet” becomes a point of contention between the men, tensions fray. They’ll have to survive each other if they are to survive the months until help arrives.
Xavier Gens wrote and directed Frontier(s), part of the so-called French new wave of horror and a fucking great horror film. It’s raw energy, dream logic, and visceral violence make for a harrowing film experience. But that was 11 years ago. How has his creative (feature) output been since then? Well, he made Hitman, which was mediocre and ultimately forgettable. He made The Divide, which featured a great turn from Michael Biehn and was decent overall. Then The Crucifixion “from the producers of Annabelle”, which I haven’t seen (but maybe that promo line says enough?). Now this film, Cold Skin. The reason that I’m reminding you of this director’s output is to provide context. That context is – a director who made something that I loved and several things that didn’t bowl me over made a new thing. That new thing has also failed to bowl me over. Cold Skin has a solid premise that never really goes anywhere. Actually, that’s not true. It goes somewhere, and that somewhere is clever enough, but the path to that somewhere is so illogical that the destination ends up feeling empty. I’m being intentionally vague to avoid spoilers. I will say, however, that the weak link in this film is character/creature development. I imagine Gens hoped to preserve some mystery for his creatures. But the story takes such a blind turn in the final act that we’re left scratching our heads wondering if a reel of the film was accidentally skipped over. The film does have some strengths though. The violence is fast paced and frenetic, if a little repetitive. The creatures are mostly practical and decently designed and when CGI is used it’s not entirely disappointing. And the relationships among the three main characters are tense, if a bit poorly fleshed out. The result of all of that good/bad is a middling film. I hate to say it, but I’m starting to think that Frontier(s) is Gens’ genre filmmaking peak. I hope I’m wrong though.
The Final Cut: Cold Skin stops just short of being a cold fish of a film with its moments of pulse quickening action. But its obscure mythology, uni-dimensional characters, and repetitiveness make for a rather tepid viewing experience.