Review By Bears Fonte
Every year I get the privilege of covering Fantasia in Montreal, the largest genre Festival in North America, and certainly one of the most important. Usually I just enjoy a great number of screeners here in Austin, but every once in a while a film comes across my giant flat screen TV that causes intense disappointment that I’m stuck here and not watching glorious creepy cinematography on the big screen.
Xavier Gens film COLD SKIN has a lot going for it. First of all, it’s pure Lovecraft, and there are very few films made in that style despite it being basically the birth of Hollywood genre. Go back to the original Universal monster movies and you’ll see they all play out along lovecraftian lines. Set in the midst of World War I, Gen’s film also puts us in a time period where we were still discovering new things and didn’t necessarily have the technology to protect us. The world was a much more dangerous place then, and we were much more helpless. COLD SKIN finds a young man named ‘Friend’ looking to escape the world on a remote Antarctic Island, home to a single cabin and a lighthouse. The lighthouse, surrounded by traps and fortifications as if it were a medieval castle, is run by a shaggy curmudgeon by the name of Gruner. Friend soon finds they are not the only residents on this island as every night the lighthouse is assaulted by a horde of strange humanoid toads desperate to throw themselves on the lighthouse lamp. One of these toadoids Gruner has adopted, or at least invited into his home to live partially like a human. Fortunately for him, he also gets to have sex with her.
As the film plays out in some sort of perverse Shape of Water flip, Friend tries his best to survive the island and find the humanity in their female toad companion. He also seems to fall for her, creating conflict with Gruner and of course deeper conflict with their nightly stand on the balcony of the lighthouse killing dozens of toadoids each night. Enough cannot be said of just how gorgeous this film looks and how jealous I am of anyone who got to see it on the big screen. An unseen world painted in bold colors and wide shots captures the sense of wonder that is all too often lost in our modern world. Unfortunately, the film basically makes its point about 30 minutes into it as the fight against the locals reaches what feels like end-of-the-movie levels. There is really nowhere to go as these creatures have no communication abilities and even the adopted companion is not very expressive. We never really know what she wants and why she stays there. And then honestly, we never really see what Friend sees in her unless it’s just that he is a typical man and therefore horny and will fuck anything he can. Which undercuts the idea that he has a need to investigate her Humanity.
What’s actually missing from this film is mostly search and investigation. While the film really sets up the character as a sort of Darwin stand in, his searching is not really all that scientific. Nor is it an illuminating. Without any development in The Interlopers’ understanding of their hosts reluctantance, there is really no new territory for the film to explore other than the various ways they are going to kill these things and whether or not they want to leave the island. From a Lovecraftian point of view, the sense of man’s hopelessness in the face of assumed destruction really comes through. I just wanted a little bit more to carry the film through its running time.