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John’s Horror Corner: Cold Skin (2017), elegantly mixing Dagon (2001) with The Descent (2005) in this gorgeous film!

September 19, 2018

MY CALL: Come for the fish people, stay for the visual depth. I expected to love this, and I did, but not for the reasons I anticipated. MORE MOVIES LIKE Cold Skin: Rather than suggesting Lovecraftian film adaptations, I’d go for visually spectacular films like The Pirates of the Caribbean (2003; and sequels), The Shallows (2016), A Cure for Wellness (2016) and The Babysitter (2017).

In 1914, a man (David Oakes) travels to a remote island near the Arctic Circle for a one-year weather duty and finds himself battling pseudo-Lovecraftian humanoid sea creatures with the lighthouse caretaker Gruner (Ray Stevenson; Black Sails, The Book of Eli). The film elegantly mixes Dagon (2001) with The Descent (2005), but is less monstrous than either and is based on a book by Albert Sánchez Piñol.

The opening scenes feature stark green-screening and weak CGI sea life—which is highly deceptive of the true quality to come (just get past the first few minutes of the film). But fear not! My worries swiftly flecked away when we were greeted by the gorgeous shots of the island with its craggy marine scapes and even the watchtower interior. All the shots are just gorgeous—down to every wave’s crash or seaside plant! Few films are so scintillating (e.g., The Shallows, A Cure for Wellness).

The special effects on our fish people felt minimal… in the sense that the film wasn’t trying to wow us with them. They looked good—quite good up close. But they are simply a race of ichthyoid people in large numbers attacking a lighthouse en masse trying to kill or eat its human inhabitants. They aren’t showcased as in a “monster movie.”

The gore is non-existent; the blood is minimal. And, you know what, I was surprisingly fine with that. Likewise, the action is fine, even exciting at times, but it’s not the soul of this film. This is more about Friend and Gruner, their lonely island, and the evolution of their relationship as they thwart their marine-evolved foes. Like two final survivors in a zombie apocalypse, they come to despise yet depend on one another. Just one problem: one of them has sympathy for their opposing species and desires a life outside of exterminating their foe. Our actors breathe life into their polarized characters. Ray Stevenson’s brash and shameless candor when it comes to nudity is tempered by Oakes’ patient and prosaic narrations.

Best known for his gruesome approach to horror, director Xavier Gens (Frontiers, The ABCs of Death “X is for XXL”) marries the deep ones of H. P. Lovecraft’s Dagon (2001) with enamoring photography and a sieging horde. Gens really shocked me here, but with beauty over brutality. The ending brings close to a cycle of sorts; a resolution, but not quite catharsis.

If you’ve read this far, you should really just go see this. Even if you don’t care for the story I’d dare anyone to contest the visual splendor of the film and the depth of the actors’ performances.

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