Cold Skin - Review and Analysis
“In this creature FX-filled horror adventure, a young man comes to a desolate island to take up the lighthouse post of weather observer. But Friend finds no trace of the man he has been sent to replace, just a deranged brute who has witnessed a horror he refuses to name. When nightly invasions of unknown creatures emerge in the dark from the ocean, Friend realizes that something else entirely lurks on this island.”
-Shudder plot summary
[SPOILERS MAY BE AHEAD. Go watch the movie!]
From the way this film is marketed, it’s easy to assume that 2017’s Cold Skin is a simple creature-feature, akin to Tremors or The Mist. However, what you see is not what you get with this film. While the story does contain scenes of horror at the hands of killer creatures, the main focus throughout the entire runtime is the characters, first and foremost. The primary roles in the movie are all layered and three dimensional, and the object of the film is to examine how the two human characters react to the isolation that the island insists upon.
The film’s most interesting character (known as “Gruner” for the majority of the film) is immensely compelling. As more information is provided about Gruner, more questions are inevitably raised. You (as the viewer) read into his every move; there’s a scene in the movie where you know exactly what Gruner’s intentions are from nothing but a single look of disdain. His character goes through a huge arch, full of progressions and regressions, before his ultimate sacrifice at the end of the film.
The main protagonist, dubbed “Friend” by Gruner, is also a complexly layered character. Though his backstory isn’t clearly defined, we learn a wealth of information about his personality through his inner-thoughts (conveniently conveyed through narration) and his actions towards the other two main characters. When Friend first arrives on the island, it is obvious that he is running from something. He desperately seeks to shed his old life and the shackles of society, even if it means enduring life in a desolate, rocky wasteland.
The last of the primary characters is Aneris, the film’s link between the humans and the island-monsters. Her existence is the main reason why Cold Skin is being compared to 2018’s The Shape of Water. However, whereas the relationship between Eliza and the Gill-Man in Shape is loving and sweet (or is presented as such), the relationship between Gruner and Aneris is highly abusive and is not the focus of the film. Instead, Aneris’ role in the movie is that of an informer without a voice. She tells us everything that we need to know about herself through her physicality alone. Her actions unintentionally sway those of the human characters, propelling the story steadily forward.
Technically, this movie is a marvel. It has nearly everything going for it, from the impeccable directing (props to Xavier Gens) to the amazing setting and art design. The design and practical effects that work to bring the creatures to life are excellent as well. If I were to gripe, I would say that the film is maybe a little too slowly paced, but I mostly attribute that complaint to my short attention span. Despite my amazement at the technical quality of the film, I’ve yet to talk about the picture’s best asset.
The writing is the standout feature of this movie, and not just in the dialogue. The whole film touches upon the themes of great literary novels like Robinson Crusoe and the works of Edgar Allen Poe (hey, that rhymed). It is a novel adaption, but from the excerpts that I’ve read of the 2002 source material, it seems that the film takes a different tone thematically. This is not a bad thing. Everything that we see onscreen is totally necessary and works to bring the film to a satisfying and well-deserved ending. Even though the conclusion leaves us with what is by no means a “sunshine and rainbows” situation, it feels… justified, I suppose. It’s almost unexplainable.
This is not a fun film, nor is it an easy watch. But I see it as a modern masterpiece, and I will be rewatching it at some point. If I were to rate it the traditional way, I would give Cold Skin a 9.5/10. You can stream it on Shudder, or you can buy it on physical media (if that’s your thing). Whatever the case may be, I strongly recommend setting time aside to view this movie.
Quick note: this is the first blog post on this site so far. I expect there to be many more to come, so stay tuned for that. Just a heads up— any movie that is featured on the podcast or is mentioned on my Letterboxd account will probably get this analysis/review treatment at some point. Thanks for reading!
-Jackson (The Son)