Opening October 14
Directed by Pedro Almodovar
The premise behind Almodovar’s latest foray into arthouse genre involves elements that may have felt quite at home in one of Cronenberg’s early movies, making it feel a lot like a B-horror movie only using the same stylish visuals that have made Almodovar such a compelling filmmaker.
After nearly two decaes, Almodovar reunites with his “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” star Antonio Banderas, this time playing prestigious plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Ledgard, who lost his wife in a car fire years earlier and has spent his time since trying to create a synthetic skin. Like in their previous collaboration, Robert is holding a woman named Vera (Elena Anaya) hostage, and we’re led to understand she’s his patient whose entire body has been grafted with his new type of heat-resistant skin. There’s aspects to this premise that fall in line with torture porn like “Martyrs” or the recent oddball horror flick “Beyond the Black Rainbow,” but Almodovar approaches more under the influence of Hitchcock that he just hasn’t been able to escape in recent years.
Before we can figure out the complex relationship between the surgeon and this woman, a guy in a tiger suit shows up to the front door of Robert’s mansion. This is the maid’s son Zeca, who has just committed a robbery and is looking for a place to hide. Seeing Vera doing yoga in her room, he breaks in and rapes her, thinking she’s Robert’s wife who he had killed years earlier. Robert comes home and stops him, and that’s pretty much when the whole movie starts going off the rails and never quite returns.
As Robert and Vera consummate their relationship, the movie goes back in time six years to a party where Robert’s daughter is raped, driving her insane, so Robert plots revenge against her attacker. The way these scenes are laid out, returning to Robert and Vera in bed then cutting back to the rapist, Vincente, while he’s working at a dress shop, makes it hard to keep track of the time lines. It almost feels like Almodovar gave up on his original story idea to start a brand new one, and it’s quite some time before we figure out how the two stories are connected. Once we do, it’s quite disturbing but not in a way that can be enjoyed or relished.
There are other aspects that don’t quite add up and a number of plot points that serve absolutely no obvious point. When Robert finds his daughter unconscious at the party, it seems to happen fairly quickly like when we actually see what happened with Robert’s daughter, which seems to take place in its own extended timeframe.
Other than Anaya, who looks absolutely amazing, bolstering Almodovar’s constant ability to make the most beautiful women absolutely shine on the screen, the performances aren’t that great, being almost comically bad at times.
Every frame of the film looks fantastic of course and the music is beautiful, but there’s no one in the movie you can feel an ounce of empathy for. Robert’s motivations for what he does are fairly clear, but it’s never believable that a surgeon who has shown benevolence for helping people might do what he does. It’s equally hard to believe his captive Vera might fall for him or vice versa in the way Almodovar’s sick twist on “Stockholm Syndrome” tries to parlay. These issues just pile onto one another making it quite difficult to get through, and when it ends in the most obvious and unsatisfying way possible, you’ll just be even more disappointed.
Considering how great “The Skin I Live In” looks and the cinematic artistry behind the film, it’s a shame the odd choices Almodovar makes in telling the story turn it into one of his first big misses in a long time. It’s torture porn that’s torturous for reasons other than gore.