Cold Skin (2017) [Fantasia 2018]

On an Antartic island, a new weather observer arrives to relieve his predecessor only to fins he may very well have lost his mind. As the two enter in an odd sort of back and forth, a native creature lives by their side as her cohorts start showing themselves outside.

Directed by Xavier Gens and written by Jesus Olmo and Eron Sheean based on a novel by Albert Sanchez Pinol, Cold Skin explores how a man can go from an observer to being embroiled in a situation he doesn’t fully understand. That story in and of itself is fairly interesting, but as a whole it feels like something is missing. The addition of mythical oceanic creatures does bring something to the table in terms of story and character development but it does not fully fill that void. The story works, the characters are interesting to watch, and the film is entertaining, but in the end it feels like something is missing as mentioned above and that is perhaps due to how the novel is translated to the screen, like something is lost in translation.

The cast is kept mostly small, creating an intimacy that does add to the story and to the impact decisions make to each character and the viewer. In the lead of the weather observer, simply listed as Friend, is David Oakes who gives a good fish-out-water performance and gets to have a decent and decently satisfying evolution, growth, and character arc. The film is his story and he takes it and runs with it. His performance fits the material and emotionally connects with the viewer. Playing the man seemingly having lost his mind from living on the island too long, a character known as Gruner, is Ray Stevenson. Here he shows talent for the damaged, brooding performance when the character calls for it and uses his imposing physicality to add to his performance at other moments. He has both subtle and grandiose moments showing his range as an actor. Rounding out the main cast is Aura Garrido as Aneris the main mythical sea creature seen in the film. Her character is an interesting take on mermaids with hints of what she is at first, starting with her name being Sirena spelled backwards, and more obvious as the story advances, including a very pretty swimming scene. Garrido turns in a physical performance that grabs the attention whenever she is on screen. Her movements are carefully calculated as they need to be in the full body suit and she does fantastic work communicating in movement and facial expression. Her character may not say much vocally, yet she gets plenty across with just the physical side of her performance. Together Oakes, Stevenson, and Garrido create an odd sort of trip that perfectly complements each other and creates a fully-fledged microcosm on their island that becomes under attack. This brings the viewer fully into their world.

The character of Aneris being a mythical being brings in an important team to Cold Skin, the practical effects team that designed and applied the creation onto actress Aura Garrido. This work is done here by Dharma Estudio under Arturo Balseiro. Their work on Aneris is stunningly beautiful, creating a mermaid-like character that is more merpeople from Harry Potter than The Little Mermaid. She is not traditionally human pretty, she’s something else entirely, a true amphibian being who can live on land and in water. Her design works for the story and its mood while actress Aura Garrido does great work with the suit applied to her. The design, its application, and Garrido’s work come together to create a believable creature that brings interest to the film.

Another major point of Cold Skin is its look, a mix of the sets, decors, lighting, visual effects, and of course cinematography playing a big part. This cinematography by Daniel Aranyo is beautiful and done with great attention to framing and exactly what is in each shot. This is used to create feelings for open spaces and cramped ones and to create intimacy where needed. Aranyo’s work is one of the best parts of the film creating moody, evocative imagery for all visual arts fans to love.

Cold Skin is a beautiful dark film that feels like it unfortunately is missing something story-wise for it all to be absolutely fascinating. The acting and practical effects show great talent and the visual side of the film as well as the emotional one are well-done and pull viewers in, it’s something on the story or execution side of things that pulls it from amazing down to very good. That something is hard to pinpoint, which makes it even more unfortunate.

Fantasia 2018 ran from July 12th to August 2nd, 2018.