×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Cold Skin’

Two men battle amphibious hordes on a South Atlantic island in this handsome adaptation of Albert Sánchez Piñol's widely-translated novel.

Director:
Xavier Gens
With:
Ray Stevenson, David Oakes, Aura Garrido, John Benfield, Winslow W. Iwaki, Alejandro Rod, Ivan Gonzalez, Ben Temple. (English dialogue.)
Release Date:
Sep 7, 2018

1 hour 47 minutes

Xavier Gens’ period chiller “Cold Skin,” based on the 2002 novel by Catalan author Albert Sánchez Piñol, offers a good-looking and well-crafted if familiar chunk of creature-siege horror as two men in a remote setting battle off an army of amphibious attackers each night. Even the critters themselves have a déjà-vu quality — they resemble the pale-white, clammy humanoid predators of the “Descent” movies — though the primary setting of an island lighthouse over a century ago lends some distinctive atmosphere. Already released in several countries, Goldwyn’s planned Sept. 7 U.S. release should do all right with genre fans, though it won’t likely generate any clamor for sequels.

In Piñol’s widely translated book, the protagonist is a disillusioned fighter for Irish independence. Here, there’s no explanation why David Oakes’ young Irishman has decided to spend a year in complete isolation as the meteorologist on an island near the Antarctic Circle, though his air of angst does suggest flight from some trouble or other. He insists on staying despite entreaties from the kindly captain (John Benfield) whose ship has detoured to drop him here in a just-pre-WWI 1914, the notable absence of his predecessor, and the ominous signs of violent struggle in the cabin that now-missing man had inhabited.

The rocky atoll’s sole other inhabitant is Gruner (Ray Stevenson), an older man who at first appears mad, and is certainly unfriendly. Traipsing around in the nude, he barely seems interested in this rare intrusion by the civilized world, or in the new arrival he laconically dubs “Friend.” (We never do learn the real name of Oakes’ character.) He’s also inexplicably outfitted the lighthouse he’s caretaker of like a medieval fortress, with wooden spikes thrusting outward all the way to the top, as if to ward off invading hordes.

Seeking solitude, “Friend” shrugs off all these red flags and bids adieu to his travel-mates — no ship will pass here again until his term ends in 12 months. His questions are answered all too quickly: As soon as night falls, our hero’s abode is attacked by numerous semi-aquatic creatures. A similar assault clearly claimed his predecessor’s life, and he only survives this one by retreating to a cellar.

The next night, he fortifies his digs. But the ensuing skirmish leaves the cabin uninhabitable. “Friend” has no option but to move into the lighthouse, where Gruner makes him feel most unwelcome — in part because Gruner isn’t actually alone at all, but cohabits with a female creature (Aura Garrido) he’s “tamed” to treat as part slave, part mistress. Dubbing her “Aneris” (i.e. “siren”), “Friend” realizes her kind aren’t necessarily, inherently murderous, just as she learns some men are kinder than brutish Gruner. Nonetheless, the two émigrés must spend most nights in combat with the throng that rises from the sea at dusk. It is Gruner’s goal to eradicate these “toads” altogether, something that becomes possible once the duo access dynamite buried by a shipwreck nearby.

That this exterminating war may be unnecessary — that in fact the two species might be able to peaceably co-exist — is an eventual revelation that doesn’t make much sense in Jésus Olmo’s screenplay, rendering the fadeout of the film adaptation rather silly. Perhaps the novel had more narrative ambiguity and psychological nuance; here, “Cold Skin” becomes a fairly uncomplicated monster movie. No matter that it begins with a quotation from Nietzsche and offers a few other pretensions toward higher meaning (notably in “Friend’s” voiceover narration). These elements just feel like unnecessary gloss on an essentially simple, down-and-dirty fantasy action tale.

But if the core material doesn’t translate into anything inspired, Gens (“Frontier(s),” “Hitman”) and his collaborators nonetheless expend considerable care on its packaging. There’s a lush, slightly storybook quality to Daniel Aranyo’s very handsome widescreen lensing, abetted by artful design contributions including first-rate CGI. Though exteriors were shot on the Canary Islands, they manage to evoke an arctic extremity well enough. Victor Reyes’ original score is stirring in a conventional orchestral manner. The actors also invest their roles with conviction and craft, even if the story ultimately doesn’t quite reward such seriousness of approach.

Film Review: 'Cold Skin'

Reviewed at Fantasia Film Festival, July 20, 2018. (Also in Sitges Film Festival.) Running time: 107 MIN.

Production: (Spain-France) A Samuel Goldwyn Films release of a Babieka presentation of a Skin Prods., Babieka Films, Babieka Entertainment production in co-production with Kanzaman France, Pontas Films, in association with The Ink Connection, Kinology. (Int'l sales: Kinology, Paris.) Producers: Denise O’Dell, Mark Albela. Executive producers: Denis Pedregosa, Orlando Pedregosa, Grégoire Melin, Maria Dolores Magan, Jose Magan. Co-producers: Lucette Legot, Frederic Bovis, Anna Soler-Pont, Ricard Domingo, Lola R. de Azero Tabares.

Crew: Director: Xavier Gens. Screenplay: Jésus Olmo, based on the novel by Albert Sánchez Piñol. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Daniel Aranyo. Editor: Guillermo de la Cal. Music: Victor Reyes.

With: Ray Stevenson, David Oakes, Aura Garrido, John Benfield, Winslow W. Iwaki, Alejandro Rod, Ivan Gonzalez, Ben Temple. (English dialogue.)

More Film

  • Of Fathers and Sons

    Producer of Oscar-Nommed Syria Documentary Could Miss Awards Due to Visa Problem

    A German producer’s hopes to attend Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, where his film is up for an Oscar, look likely to be dashed by tightened U.S. Department of Homeland Security restrictions and increased bureaucracy. Hans Robert Eisenhauer is one of the producers of “Of Fathers and Sons,” director Talal Derki’s film about a radical Islamist [...]

  • Speaker of the United States House

    Nancy Pelosi, Ava DuVernay Honored at VH1 Trailblazers Event

    Cher is feeling a little better about what’s happening in Washington, D.C. “When I see Trump spew his hate and tell his gazillion lies, I get pissed off and feel uneasy at the same time,” the Oscar winner and frequent Trump critic said on Wednesday while introducing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at “VH1 [...]

  • Most Memorable Oscar Speeches in Academy

    The Most Memorable Oscar Speeches in Academy History

    No Academy Awards is complete without some emotional acceptance speeches on stage – and some political ones to boot. With just 90 seconds to make an impact, many actors have used the platform as a voice for political change, calling attention to hot-button issues like climate change and gender equality, while others have simply reveled [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    Jussie Smollett Arrested, in Custody of Chicago Police

    Jussie Smollett has been arrested and faces criminal charges for allegedly filing a false police report and for disorderly conduct. Chicago police tweeted Thursday morning that the “Empire” actor was under arrest and in custody of detectives. Smollett claimed that he had been attacked by two men on Jan. 29 — he said they beat [...]

  • Billie Holiday (1915-1959, born Eleanora Fagan)

    Billie Holiday Documentary Draws Buyers as Concord Boards Project

    Concord, the successor to the Billie Holiday Estate, has boarded James Erskine’s documentary “Billie,” which tracks the iconic jazz singer’s life. Altitude Film Sales has sold the project to several territories. Also joining the project, now in post-production, is the Brazilian colorization artist Marina Amaral. Most of the filmed and still images that exist of [...]

  • My Extraordinary Summer With Tess review

    Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess'

    Winner of a special mention from the Berlinale Generation KPlus’ adult jury, the family-friendly, light drama “My Extraordinary Summer With Tess” is straightforward youth cinema with surprising emotional depth. Based on a prize-winning novel by Anna Woltz, a beloved Dutch writer of work for young readers, it explores family relationships and emphasizes the importance of [...]

  • UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report: Women, Minorities

    Hollywood Diversity Gains in TV but Falls Short in Movies

    Minorities and women have registered gains in several key areas of television but women continue to lag in movies, according to a report issued Thursday by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “My basic take is that TV is improving more for minorities and women than film,” said Dr. Darnell [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content