Cold Skin (Movie Review)

Emerging from the Antarctic depths on amphibious legs comes Cold Skin, a brand-new blend of Adventure, Horror, and Sci-Fi, which arrived to select North American theaters and On Demand, as well as Digital platforms, as of September 7, 2018, thanks to Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Cold Skin still.

In September 1914, a young weather observer (David Oakes: The Borgias series, Victoria series) arrives on the shores of a remote outpost in Antarctica. As Captain Axel (John Benfield: Prime Suspect mini-series, Speed Racer 2008) and his men escort the young observer ashore, they quickly discover a dilapidated old cabin, abandoned, furniture tossed every which way, and everything covered in a thick layer of dust. At the nearby lighthouse, they find a naked and disheveled Gruner (Ray Stevenson: Thor 2011, Black Sails series), the Maritime Signal Technician (or lighthouse keeper, to the layperson). Despite serious hesitations and a private word with the Captain, the young man opts to stay at the island as the crew return to the sea.

On his first night, the young man is besieged in the night by something that sounds monstrous. A bizarre, webbed foot appears in a crevice at the bottom of the door, and, when he is forced to retreat and hide in the supply cellar, some kind of creature gazes through a slat in the flooring at him. On his second night, better prepared to face the unknown but clearly not well-experienced in survival situations, he nearly burns down the cabin.

Come the morning of his third day, he is forced to head to the lighthouse – strangely fortified with spiked walls – to plead with Gruner for admittance and help in surviving this forbidding new world. Here, he will quickly learn of the island’s largest secret, a race of amphibious humanoid creatures who spend their days at sea, but attack once the sun sets. Perhaps most strange of all, despite his bloodthirsty need to annihilate these creatures, Gruner lives with one, the beautiful blue Aneris (Aura Garrido: Stockholm 2013, The Ministry of Time series).

Cold Skin still.

As the new arrival learns to fight for his life, he also begins to open his eyes with wonder toward the mysteries of this odd new land. What Gruner sees as something to destroy and conquer, this man may find otherwise – that is, if it doesn’t kill him first. Clocking in at 106 minutes in-length, Cold Skin was directed by Xavier Gens (Frontier(s) 2007, The Divide 2011), and its screenplay was written by Jesús Olmo (Linked short 1996, 28 Weeks Later 2007) and Eron Sheean (The Divide 2011, Errors of the Human Body 2012), based off the novel by Albert Sánchez Piñol. As mentioned above, it is a wonderful blend of Adventure, Horror, and Sci-Fi, something that plays out with remote notes of 2009’s blockbuster Avatar and, say, AMC’s series The Terror – at least atmospherically speaking.

Cold Skin is a beautifully-crafted film, full of exquisite scenery thanks to the black sand beaches of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. The cast and crew have far outdone themselves here, with a film that looks as stunning as it sounds thanks to its pitch-perfect original score by Víctor Reyes (Buried 2010, Grand Piano 2013). The acting is flawless, the CGI is on-point, and the creatures are creepy when they need to be and yet beautifully delicate, as well. This is a truly astounding production, and yet there are two slight flaws – the runtime allows the story to lag in spots, while the research behind the screenplay adaptation of the novel is a bit flawed.

At 106 minutes in length, let’s face it, there are some slow spots throughout Cold Skin. Particularly when you are adapting an intelligent European film for attention-deficient North American audiences, care must be given to toe that line between unfolding organically and blossoming promptly. Needless to say, Cold Skin could stand to be tightened by about 15-20 minutes. However, that’s arguably a subjective opinion on this writer’s part.

What truly stands out is the error in translating the Antarctic seasons to the screen. The Antarctic winter runs from late June into late September, which means that here, our young observer would have arrived on the island toward the very tail-end of the winter season. Instead, the film unfolds with seasons that we would experience here in the U.S., and winter arrives in late December (which is the Antarctic summer). Additionally, areas of Antarctica can experience several weeks of 24-hour sunshine during their summers, particularly around our Christmastime. Not to mention, sand would be very hard to come by! Although, admittedly, it’s easy to overlook these facts in Cold Skin, particularly when you consider that the filmmakers likely dumbed all of this down to appeal to the average moviegoer.

Cold Skin still.

All of this aside, one must commend the ensemble cast here for their stellar performances. From Benfield, who is only on-screen for a matter of minutes in the role of Captain Axel, who fits his part to a tee, to Stevenson and Oakes, each of the cast delivers a truly honorable performance. Stevenson, as the disheveled, alcoholic nudist Gruner is exemplary in his role, a man who has lived for so long as an island that he can no longer recover his own humanity. His perfect foil, Oakes, as the nameless young observer, is wide-eyed and curious, a man who can find beauty in even the most extreme circumstances. Oakes does a splendid job of portraying the intricacies of his character, initially afraid of the harsh landscape and turning to the experienced Gruner for guidance, though ultimately managing to assess the situation for himself and go his own way. Garrido is exactly as she needs to be: beautifully full of cat-like grace.

Underneath it all, Cold Skin is a tale of man’s inability to make peace with the world around us; our desperate need to destroy and maim everything that we do not understand, anything that we touch that does not immediately bend to our will. Furthermore, often times, when we make ourselves an island, in stepping away from humanity, we lose our own. As Nietzsche once said: when we stare too long into the abyss, the abyss reaches back.

In short, the extensive cast and crew of Cold Skin should be proud of their undertaking, a gorgeously done film that, despite its few flaws, conquers the big screen triumphantly. It is an impressive spectacle to experience and yet a touching reminder of our own humanity, something that will thrill adventure-seekers yet still delight those who love a deeply-moving tale. For these reasons, CrypticRock give Cold Skin 4 of 5 stars.

Samuel Goldwyn Films

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