“Skin Art” wants viewers to figure out what makes Will (Kirk Baltz) tick. He’s a tattoo artist who specializes in elaborate works on the backs of Asian prostitutes. While the film transcends its seedy milieu, it still ends up being little more than a mystery resolved through an all-too-convenient flashback. Look for quick playoff on the fest circuit.
Story covers two tracks. Present-day story has Will working for Richard (Jake Weber), a procurer for the brothel across the street from Will’s loft. Will shuns sex with the women, as he is haunted by memories of Vietnam.
In progressive Vietnam flashbacks, Will is tortured to reveal troop placements, then ministered to by Sophia (Hil Cato), a sophisticated and somewhat bitter young Vietnamese-French woman. Eventually it becomes clear that Will’s behavior with his latest tattoo subject (Nora Ariffin) represents an attempt to work through his unresolved conflicts related to Sophia.
Story is pretty schematic and not half so erotic as it would like to be. Thesping is par, with Baltz a ringer for a younger Treat Williams, and Weber suitably slimy as the procurer. Find is newcomer Cato, who has some rough edges in her delivery but who deftly handles the contradictory cynicism and romanticism of her character.
Writer-director W. Blake Herron tries to convey with arty camera work what his script lacks, and it doesn’t always do the job. Tech credits are adequate for low-budget feature, but time might have been better spent figuring out why anyone should care about Will’s sublimated search for his lost innocence.