Despite a small list of credits, Xavier Gens has secured a place in the annals of film. FRONTIER(S) was one of the best and most overtly political films of the “New French Extremity” movement. THE DIVIDE was a brutal, harrowing and controversial post-holocaust film. Now after the poorly received THE CRUCIFIXION, he’s back with an adaption of Albert Sánchez Piño’s novel COLD SKIN. How does he fare moving from more human horrors into Lovecraftian territory?
Young meteorologist (David Oakes TRUTH OR DIE) is assigned to a remote island where his only companion is the brutish lighthouse keeper Gruner (Ray Stevenson OUTPOST, RRR). There’s no trace of the man he’s to replace and the cabin is trashed. Something is amiss but Gruner isn’t talking. The problem soon becomes clear, the waters surrounding the island are inhabited by amphibious humanoids who don’t like these land-dwelling intruders. Quite possibly because Gruner is keeping Aneris (Aura Garrido VULCANIA), one of their females, as a slave. The two men will have to find common ground and work together if either is to survive.
Despite lacking the raw violence and brutality of his earlier work COLD SKIN is hardly a simple monster movie. There’s certainly no shortage of shocks, jump scares and man-on monster battles. However, there’s a lot more going on as well. The relationships between the three leads are an examination of what humanity means. And if being a member of the species Homo Sapiens has any bearing on whether one has the quality of humanity.
Gens made some changes from the original novel which includes humanizing the creatures. Having them create primitive are and wear shell jewelry was his idea. He also changed when the events take place which alters some of the political subtexts. I haven’t read the novel so I can’t say if it’s an improvement. Making the amphibians more than dumb beasts does strengthen the movie’s drama. It also makes matters between Gruner and Aneris a much more queasy mix of rape and bestiality. And it raises the possibility that Gruner is to blame for the hostilities by capturing/kidnapping her. They may be evolved enough to seek to rescue one of their own.
The creatures themselves are impressive. Individual ones are rendered via practical effects while the larger groups are done with good CGI. They were designed by Arturo Balseiro whose many credits include the fish/human hybrids of Stuart Gordon’s DAGON and he’s done an excellent job. While not monstrous killing machines, they’re frightening and dangerous enough in a group to be a real threat.
Gens has certainly served notice with COLD SKIN that his talent hasn’t vanished. He’s made a film that is certainly more accessible to the general public than his early works while not being completely mainstream like HITMAN. This may be the film that breaks him out to a wider audience and helps fuel more intelligent genre fare.