H.P. Lovecraft had inspired more than one generation of novelists, from Stephen King to Clive Barker to Albert Sánchez Piñol.
Wait. Who the hell is Sánchez Piñol? Well, he’s the Spanish author of La Piel Fria (appropriately translated in English to Cold Skin), the award winning Lovecraftian novel which shocked the world of literature and spawned a film adaptation: Cold Skin (2018).
Cold Skin is a 2018 Spanish/French sci-fi horror drama directed by Xavier Gens (the guy who brought us the fantastic French shocker Frontier(s)) and it’s adapted to a screenplay by Jesús Olmo (28 Weeks Later). Starring David Oakes and Ray Stevenson, the movie is set in 1914 and shows a young man (Oakes) on his way to assume the lonely post of weather observer to live in solitude for a year on the edge of the Antarctic Circle.
Abandoned in a disused cabin, Friend (that’s the name of the misfortunate man) discovers that in the night time he’s not alone, as amphibious creatures attack him. Desperate and frightened, Friend ends up at the only other facility: a lighthouse which keeper, Gruner (Stevenson), helps Friend to survive and enlists him in a battle against the sea-vampires – because that’s what they really look like.
From here on, the viewer is dragged into a nearly two-hour-long dark tale where human emotions and flaws are as scary as the creatures themselves.
In fact, the true horror here lies in the human side of the story: both Oakes and Stevenson give great performances, with the latter being possibly outstanding. Their characters are extremely rich and multifaceted, their relationship is enthralling and captivating. Although Friend is supposed to be the real protagonist, Gruner’s arc is truly what makes Cold Skin. The filmmakers take a very ballsy route by having as focus of the story a character that is not just flawed, but often unlikable and disgusting due to his actions.
As opposed to many subpar horror flicks, though, Gruner here is relatable and interesting despite his dark side because every action he makes has a reason, a motivation that somewhat justifies it. Despite being quite the happy-go-lucky guy, Friend is also a highly conflicted protagonist, which makes him more realistic.
Besides, Cold Skin benefits from great production values and a clever use of the budget: instead of squandering money in CGI, the eight million dollars budget is utilised to film the movie on location (Spain and the Canary Islands). Such a directorial choice provides the film with fantastic visuals – especially outdoor – and an extra layer of realism, with the characters being prey for the tough climate conditions.
Yet, this is one of the very few movies I’ve recently seen which features virtually no exposition. Although Cold Skin is narrated to us by Friend’s voiceover, the narrator never tells the audience how to feel or why certain things are happening: those are aspects that the attentive viewer should figure out by themselves.
As I hinted before, the horrific side of this sci-fi drama lies in the humans more than in the creatures. There are a couple of scenes that both bring tears to the audience’s eyes and provide them with nightmares material.
However, the powerful message of this film has the downside of taking away the scare factor from the creatures. Sure, they might seem a tiny bit frightening… if Cold Skin is the first horror film you ever watched! What we find scary is obviously very subjective, however I found the movie more uneasy for its implications than actually frightening for what I saw on screen.
Also, towards the end, there are a couple of sequences where the greenscreen is evident to a sharp eye and they distracted me from the storyline.
Finally, there is one scene – which I cannot spoil – that’s supposed to be a big deal, but feels rather rushed and unsatisfactory.
Nonetheless, the great, depressing and somewhat hopeless ending makes up for that, fitting really well the overall mood of Cold Skin. All in all, this is a movie that feels fresh and different and, despite not being very horror related, I would still highly recommend it to everybody.
Cold Skin 7.5/10
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My review is also available on IMDb – Cold Skin