Way back in 1988 I was first exposed to director Pedro Almodovar via his breakout hit Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. That movie was funny, a bit trashy, absurd, and highly entertaining. The movie also featured then unknown Antonio Banderas in a large role that no doubt helped him make the big jump to Hollywood. Both Almodovar and Banderas, thus, would go on to very successful careers. The Skin I Live In, released last year in 2011, represents the first time in many years the two worked together again.
When I first heard of The Skin I Live In, I was curious to see how Mr. Almodovar, whose most successful works to my mind are usually humorous or dramatic in nature, would handle a foray into the horror genre. I approached the film with excitement, interest, and curiosity. I also avoided spoilers, only reading cryptic hints as to the movie’s plot, which apparently involved a surgeon/skin researcher Robert Ledgard (Banderas) and a most unusual client, Vera Cruz (the stunning Elena Anaya) and their twisted relationship. That, in the end, was the extent of my knowledge of the film.
When i finally sat down to watch it, I was immediately struck by the thematic similarities The Skin I Live In had to other (very) old-time horror works. Indeed, this film employs what is perhaps one of the oldest horror movie tropes: the mad scientist.
To give away more details of the movie’s plot would be a crime, for this film offers plenty of bizarre –very bizarre– surprises. At a couple of points in the film I thought I had things worked out, but the eventual story reveals proved a whole lot stranger than anything I came up with.
Having said that, as good and as wicked as the story being told is, The Skin I Live In proved also to be a frustrating experience. The very gutsy and potentially profound story is undermined by weak, almost soap-opera level characterization and melodrama. The way the story unfolds, too, is frustrating, starting in the present and then, halfway through, abruptly shifting to the past. Finally, as an audience member one has to accept too many unlikely things happening between the characters and often involving dumb actions on their part for the movie to actually work.
Without giving too much away, here are a few of the things that didn’t work for me: We have to accept that a group of veteran surgeons would perform a very major operation on someone without looking into their patient’s background at all. We have to accept that a character who appears quite grounded would allow a very dangerous individual into her home. We have to accept that a character would take a disturbed relative to a party, her first foray (apparently) out of a mental institution…and then simply lose track of her whereabouts.
And these are the things I can mention without getting too heavily into spoilers.
Still, the film presented a very strong and mind-bending story. Perhaps if the script had been worked on a little more, and perhaps if the film had been focused more on Vera Cruz’s point of view and her attempts to uncover the mystery around her, I think the film might have worked a lot better. Nonetheless, if you’re interested in taking a journey into some genuinely bizarre story directions, The Skin I Live In might well be for you. Note however, the film is rated “R” for good reason.