Fantastical drama Cold Skin tells a tale of loneliness, fear, and humanity in presence of beasts. Isolated at the top of a lighthouse in the Antarctic are two men – trapped by impending madness and creatures that come from the sea.
From France, this English-speaking film comes from the genre-familiar hands of director Xavier Gens. A complete tonal shift from his previous works, his prior projects include the demonic possession film The Crucifixion (2017), the deliciously gory “X Is for XXL” segment in horror anthology ABC’S of Death (2012), and perhaps his most notable film – the extreme Frontier(s) (2007). Steering clear of gore, violence, and modern horror fare, Gens goes remote with Cold Skin.
The film is based on the novel La Pell Freda by Albert Sánchez Piñol. The screenplay is penned by Jesús Olmo (28 Weeks Later), and Eron Sheean (The Divide).
Set in an isolated island in the Antarctic during the early 20th century, Cold Skin follows a newly appointed weather surveyor, Friend (played by David Oakes –The White Queen, Victoria). The previous weather surveyor was officially deemed as succumbing to Typhus. Not deterred, Friend seeks the isolation of his cabin. Only, he must share his remote inlet with crazed lighthouse keeper Gruner (Ray Stevenson – Thor, Thor: Ragnarok).
Inside the cabin, Friend discovers the notes of the previous surveyor depicting sophisticated, evolved water creatures. Outside, he discovers strange circular rock formations amidst the sand. But it isn’t until nightfall that he discovers the truth for himself.
Scratching. Scuttling. A garbled, wet sound outside his door. It rattles on its (ye olde) hinges. Then – a blueish webbed foot reaches under the door. Terrified, Friend stomps at it and flees to the basement, finally getting a glimpse of the mer-creature through a crack in the floorboards. Not outwardly threatening in their design, the human-like creatures have amphibious features; wide almond eyes, hairless bodies, compressed noses and ears. He stabs at it, and the creatures flee.
Afraid of being unable to defend himself in his flimsy quarters, Friend pleas to Gruner to allow him into the lighthouse, but to no avail. The next night, Friend defends himself with his only provisions; a single rifle – and the ability to create flame. Not surprisingly, his foolhardy maneuver backfires, torching the cabin in the process. Now completely exposed to the nighttime visitors, Friend makes a second attempt to admission within Gruner’s lighthouse, striking up a trade of supplies.
Once inside the lighthouse, Friend discovers Gruner is keeping one of the mer-creatures (Aura Garrido) as a sort of pet. He is cruel and disdainful towards her, despite her displaying a high level of intelligence and a naturally inquisitive nature. Not wanting to rock the lighthouse, Friend steers clear of Gruner’s habits, even after discovering he has sex with a creature. Screw it. I’m calling mer-rape on this one.
Soon, the men develop a routine. Come nightfall, when the lighthouse kicks into gear, the creatures begin to appear on the shore. Hellbent on attacking the structure. The men shoot, stab and pummel night after night. During the daylight hours, tensions arise within the lighthouse – Gruner is as obsessed with killing the species, despite evidence of their very intelligence hovering at his heels.
Though a simple story, Cold Skin isn’t in a rush to convey a tale about humanity at the edge of the world. By day, we explore the tension of the two men’s juxtaposing personalities and ways of life in a sun-bleached, sandy color palette. By night, the men glow under blue-blackness, mercilessly defending their keep.
“[Stevenson’s] grisly beard and weather-whipped hair almost hide his eyes wide and haunted with cabin fever. “
Gruner is an unforgiving man, but also crazed and wild to the point that we almost sympathize. Almost. (See: mer-rape) Stevenson digs deep into the role. His grisly beard and weather-whipped hair almost hide his eyes wide and haunted with cabin fever. When the cold weather hits – we really get a glimpse of the hypnotic determination of years of self-appointed desolation. A moment of lucidity, and even he is frightened by his own obsession. And that, is a terrifying thing.
Friend, though kinder than his tower companion – lacks bravery. He feels an immediate connection to Gruner’s pet creature, and allows the connection to foster. It is evident from the beginning he feels Gruner is wrong. Hunting the beings down is wrong. But he is complacent. A willing accomplice, despite a moral compass. And we wonder, who is worse?
Films have explored the theme of beasts, man and morality before, and they will continue as long as man dominates the earth with pollution, destruction, and ignorance to the very real and non-mythical beings that also inhabit it. Cold Skin doesn’t verge into undiscovered territory because we haven’t headed the warning of the stories that came before it. The message is still relevant. The journal is left for us. The beasts come at night. What will we do?
Cold Skin celebrated its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal on July 15th. Samuel Goldwyn Films will release the film in the United States.
Films have explored the theme of beasts, man and morality before, and they will continue as long as man dominates the earth with pollution, destruction, and ignorance to the very real and non-mythical beings that also inhabit it. COLD SKIN doesn't verge into undiscovered territory because we haven't headed the warning of the stories that came before it. The message is still relevant. The journal is left for us. The beasts come at night. What will we do?