Xavier Gens’ Cold Skin is a tough one to pin down. A chilling, dark maritime horror yarn, a weird interspecies romantic triangle and a creature feature all in one, it starts off with a young man (David Oakes) and an older man (Ray Stevenson) alone on a rocky Antarctic island tending to a remote lighthouse (remind you of anything this year?). Stevenson is half mad, lives in a pulverized mess under a mountain of beard and perpetually looks like he just emerged from a week long bender, and we soon see why. Every night after darkness falls, weird sub-humanoid creatures scurry out of the ocean’s depths and lay siege to the rock, particularly the lighthouse where he lives and picks a them off ruthlessly one by one as they climb the exterior. Soon the young man is swept up in this feverish nocturnal routine until he begins to question the motives, history and morality of his colleague, or whoever this dude is. There’s also a female creature he names Aneris (Aura Garrido) who lives with them periodically and… uh…. does other stuff with them too.
I liked this film a lot because it doesn’t reveal everything, even up to the final few frames. Why does Aneris forsake her kin in the sea to live with this sorry drunken prick? Why do the creatures attack in the same way every night when they, presumably somewhat sentient, know full well that these dudes have a sizeably advantageous perch? These aren’t plot holes at all by the way because you get the gnawing sense that the answers are right there in the ether, just not spelled out by the narrative, a tactic that almost always pays off nicely. Stevenson plays against his square jawed, strong n’ silent type as essentially a raving lunatic who has gotten on the wrong side of this race of beings and will not be dissuaded that they are anything more than vicious beasts, even when it becomes apparent that this is probably not the case and he has been going about the situation all wrong. Gens doesn’t fuck around when it comes to horror (check out his absolutely savage Frontiers and The Divide) and as such this has a brutal, tragic edge to it but there’s lyrical beauty as well, especially in Garrido’s remarkably physical, disarmingly soulful performance as Aneris, who seems like a strange hybrid of human girl, fallen angel, space alien and mermaid. Also effective is a very cinematic musical score by Víctor Reyes that swells and falls, ebbs and flows throughout the story like sea does against this stark, forgotten corner of the world. This film is like a strange tale told to you in a sailor’s pub one night by a drunken old captain; it’s at once ridiculous and sensational but there’s some kind of sad, eerie truth to it that hangs over you like a cloud after that final wave crashes. A film well worth seeing.