Pedro Almodovar doesn’t bring his usual romantic blossoming for this story but he replaces that with a dramatically high level of passion, tension and horror without ever actually stepping a toe into the usual horror genre cliches. The way this film looks is just sumptuous and pristine close ups all add to this needed clinical vibe the story is aiming for. Apart from a few slow and not so skin scrawling moments this 2011 Spanish movie does a lot to keep the psychological thrills ticking away.
Without going too much into the actual guts of this plot I can say that the story revolves around the obsessive nature of surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) who has crafted a new skin resistant to burns, bites etc, he uses this material on a female subject who he has created in the image of a loved one but under this facade lies another story and another viewpoint and that can be uncovered six years previous to the present day.
To start with the images given to us are lovingly presented and this credit goes to cinematographer Jose Luis Alacine, every shot is precisely set up with an eye for enough detail but not too much in each frame to let our eyes wander all over the place. The room that Ledgard’s patient stays in is exceptionally shot in certain cases. The panning shot over torn up dresses quickly hoovered up is unnerving yet beautiful at the same time. The decoration of the room in terms of set design does the job of prisoner mentality well. The black scribbles on the wall, the stitched figures and balls laying about. It’s a designer room yet lurking with that fearsome dread that you know something is wrong. This obsession of imagery goes further when you look at the way his female patient is presented. She is shot in close ups on the medical table, on her bed, all the time looking stunning and pretty but there’s that metallic edge of threat and clinical whitewashing hanging over as she’s so often seen as the gaze of Ledgard, a surgical play thing to get right. It’s a bubbling thriller about looks, revenge and passion and it may never fully boil over into some huge stirring crescendo but that’s no big critique.
This film has a suitable score for the slowly unraveling dark mysteries of Ledgard and his patient. Alberto Iglesias utilises on a lot of sharp strings and these high fiddles played over the top of scenes go a long way to start pricking up the hairs on the back of your neck. The building up of music is done a lot also, such as the way the score kicks off slowly and then increases in volume and pace as the evil tiger tries finding Ledgard’s imprisoned patient. It’s a beautiful soundtrack, lush even, in the sounds it creates that stick nicely into the artistic thriller form Almodovar is going for.
The main subject matter of this film is in the creation of identity and reversal of another. The bending of who you are as a person is done so calmly and efficiently by Ledgard that there becomes a point that you switch in sympathies for character and start sort of rooting for his female subject. I’m trying my hardest not to spoil anything for anyone who doesn’t know the secret twist of the film, though as this isn’t my first viewing of the film it now seemed so much more obvious as to what was going to happen. Maybe that’s a downside maybe it’s a treat for the people who do know, I can’t tell, but either way the act committed by Ledgard sinks in and settles in the stomach like some bad greasy meal.
Antonio Banderas does a magnificent job of playing this charismatic, caring father and surgeon who has a knack for the details of the human body. He plays likable and worryingly unstable as if they’re both the same personality trait. It’s as you see him in the dank dingy tunnel that ironically you start seeing him a new light. The patient is played superbly by Elena Anaya and she plays on her large eyes to try and pull you in and eventually it works as you take her side. There’s a vulnerability to her situation but then you can sense her underlying strength and her own obsession to get out and away. Props too for the role of Tony the Tiger (not really), Zeca played by Roberto Alamo who in pretty much one scene crashes the stage, takes hold of the spotlight and almost runs away with it. The entrance itself is creepy in its own stripy way but then it just gets worse and worse as he does his thing.
‘The Skin I Live In’ is creepy and almost there as fully immersing itself under the audience’s skin. It’s thick with tension and seductive imagery, it’s highly bizarre and a dark trail to follow but it’s worth every step.