Pay attention to the background details of the psychosexual Spanish drama The Skin I Live In, and you might recognize it as the work of camp provocateur Pedro Almodóvar (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Kika, The Flower of My Secret, High Heels, All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Volver). There are the occasional shocks of color amid the formally composed shots. There are the pop-
Before answering those nagging questions, The Skin I Live In (based on French novelist Thierry Jonquet’s f’ed-up crime novel Tarantula) skips back in time six years to give us a seemingly tangential story. In this extended flashback, we see Dr. Ledgard’s unstable reaction to his wife’s untimely death. More importantly, we witness his elaborate, Saw-like revenge plot against a young man (Jan Cornet) Ledgard believes is responsible for his daughter’s rape and subsequent suicide. At first, this might seem like extraneous information. Still, it’s hard not to watch with sick fascination what inspired Dr. Ledgard to put the “mad” in mad scientist. By the time our flashback ends, our divergent storylines have been tied up in a tight suture, and we’re able to move forward, secure in some very uncomfortable knowledge.
Though it shies away from overt blood and gore, The Skin I Live In is a mightily discomfiting horror film. Almodóvar is clearly, consciously mirroring Georges Franju’s much-lauded 1960 horror drama Eyes Without a Face—not to mention less lofty medical shockers like The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. While spinning off on his own sick-and-twisted path, Almodóvar still manages to capture much of the same beautiful-
Though it stands as the odd man out in Almodóvar’s mostly uniform résumé, The Skin I Live In is still a recognizable product of the filmmaker—from its giddy polymorphous perversity to its “womanhood is made for suffering” message. At times, the story starts to feel too fractured to ever reassemble properly (futuristic medical experiments, men in tiger suits and a revenge-for-rape plot?), but Almodóvar pulls it off elegantly. The only major complaint I can form is with the ending, which wraps up on far too quiet a grace note for a film that builds to such voyeuristic, melodramatic and queasy-horrific heights. Still, this is one art-house horror that will work its way under your skin and stay there for some time to come.
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