In 1914, just after of Franz Ferdinand's assassination that eventually caused World War I, a steamship approaches a desolate island on the edge of the Antarctic Circle, where a young nameless man is poised to take the post of weather observer, to live in solitude at the ends of the earth for an entire year until the arrival of his replacement. For the next twelve months, his entire world will consist of a deserted cabin, the surrounding sea, and dangerous strange beings that he discovers are sharing the island.
Directed by: Xavier Gens
. Starring: Ray Stevenson
, David Oakes
, Aura Garrido
, Winslow Iwaki
, John Benfield
, Ben Temple
, Iván González
, Alejandro Rod
, Julien Blaschke
, Damián Montesdeoca
, Israel Bodero
, Roberto Rincón
. Music by: Víctor Reyes
COLD SKIN opens with scenes of a young man, whose name is Friend, on the deck of a tramp steamer bound, as we are to learn, for a remote island where he is to perform duties as a weather observer for a term of 12 months. The aged and worn Capt. of the clanking old vessel, Capt. Axel, chats with Friend on the deck with surprising kindness. Colorfully, Friend observes that the captain treats him with the felicitousness of the executioner for the condemned.
Almost immediately, we arrive at Friend's island destination, an intensely desolate place with almost no vegetation, all volcanic rocks with a little sand. Incongruously perched like a wart on an otherwise featureless face, the small cabin Friend is to call home for the next 12 months squats not far from the shore, surrounded by the few constructs necessary to support Friend's weather observation activities. A few sailors carry Friend's meager belongings into the cabin which appears in a bit more disarray than one would expect. Friend is supposed to replace the existing weather observer, but the present occupant of the cabin is nowhere to be found.
Capt. Axel sends the sailors away and then he and Friend go to a lighthouse some distance away in hopes of questioning the lighthouse operator as to the whereabouts of the existing weather observer. Upon arriving at the lighthouse, we see a most unusual structure. The lighthouse and its immediate surrounds are bristling with sharp sticks and festooned with other such unwelcoming accoutrement at every possible point of attachment. No one answers the door even after much yelling and pounding at the door.
Breaking in, Friend and Capt. Axel discover the lighthouse operator upstairs, passed out naked, apparently from too much drink. Friend and Capt. Axel rouse the lighthouse operator who gives every indication of being exceptionally hostile and unstable. As for the missing weather observer, the only explanation they get from the lighthouse operator, who we learn is named Gruner, are some vague mumblings about his having died from disease.
Friend and Capt. Axel return to Friend's own cabin where Capt. Axel attempts to dissuade Friend from remaining in this awful place just one final time. Friend refuses and the pair bid each other a pleasant farewell.
That very night, Friend hears someone or something moving about immediately outside his cabin. He tentatively calls out to who he assumes is Gruner, but there is no answer. Startlingly, a dark, gray-green webbed hand reaches probingly beneath the cabin door. Understandably horrified, Friend immediately and enthusiastically stabs it with a knife. And so Friend's nightmare begins.
From the very first scene, COLD SKIN immediately impresses with its production values. The music is excellent and atmospheric, the cinematography is engaging and colorful with an almost Jules Vern-esque adventure feel, and the actors are colorful and well played. The special-effectsCGI are first-rate. The island setting is superbly appropriate for the subject matter and is so desolate it feels frightening just sitting there, doing nothing. So, for most aspects of its production, COLD SKIN gets a solid 1010.
Unfortunately, and in my opinion most disappointingly, the entire thing falls flat due to a storyline that is utter unmitigated, illogical rubbish. The movie wishes to pile-drive us in the face with a morality tale about xenophobia, apparently, and is willing to corrupt its own storyline to the point of utter nonsense in order to do it. The net effect is a storyline that, if you think about it for more than 5 seconds, makes absolutely no sense.
Why are the fish-people willing to mindlessly throw themselves in mass attacks against the lighthouse night after night only to be killed by the score? What are they after? The land is not their domain of interest and even if it was there are no resources there as it is utterly barren. If it's the fish-girl that's keeping company with Gruner that's attracting them, what's so special about her? If the fish-girl is causing the attacks, does she not care that her brethren are being killed by the busload every night? Why do the fish-people only attack at night when it's abundantly clear they're perfectly happy to be out in the daylight? Why does Gruner say they fear the light when they obviously don't? Why does the fish-girl want to keep company with humans who treat her like garbage? She's not being held prisoner in any way and has access to the water whenever she wants. Why does Gruner, who has been working diligently to massacre them by the hundreds for the entire picture, suddenly walk out the door at the end and allow himself to be torn to pieces? I only stop here arbitrarily; this list could go on indefinitely.
Movies can be highly stylized to the point of apparent insanity (BRAZIL, THE 9TH CONFIGURATION, etc.) and still have perfectly functional stories with which to tell their morality tales without fundamentally trashing the basic mechanisms and properties of decent storytelling. In a movie, even apparent insanity has to be carefully crafted and constructed, controlled and sculpted. It can't be shoveled out and thrown at the viewer like a monkey throwing poo at passersby at a zoo.
And, sadly, in its zeal to hit us over the head with its moral, that's pretty much what COLD SKIN is like.
Update 2212018: Some have suggested to me that a reading of the original book from which COLD SKIN is derived might clarify my many irritations with respect to the story. This is a wholly unsuitable suggestion for numerous reasons, though I will only name a few. Firstly, barring exigent circumstances, a movie should stand on its own and should not rely on information "not in evidence". There are certain situations, such as the Star Wars franchise, where there are so many stories and sub-stories that make up the overall arc that are revealed in so many different kinds of media (animation, books, audio recordings, etc.) that one is obviously expected to explore these other elements to obtain the full sense of the franchise. COLD SKIN is not one of those circumstances. It is simply a poor story poorly expressed. If one MUST read the book to understand the movie, why see the movie?
I suffered enough with the movie and so, truthfully, I have not read the book. A friend of mine, however, has. I put some of the collection of questions I have regarding the overall story to my friend and she was not any more able to answer them than I was with the movie with the single exception of the question as to why the Sitauca (the formal name of the fishfrogwhatever people) incessantly attack the weatherman and the lighthouse keeper; it was for the warm meat. This of course makes obvious sense; innumerable hundreds of at least semi-sentient beings would obviously be willing to sacrifice themselves for only 2 food kills at best. Uh-Huh.
In short, the book form of COLD SKIN adds more, and I am told repetitive, detail but little if any more clarity. The story is a self-indulgence of an author that is primarily an anthropologist possessed of Deep Meanings he wishes to express. There are some 7.6 billion people in the world and it is inevitable that there will be a few who share the author's peculiar brand of moral navel contemplation; others will be less impressed. Reading the book illuminates issues only for the predisposed.
Review by S_Soma from the Internet Movie Database.