Cold Skin (2017)
We are never too far from those we hate.
It’s cold outside. I saw a movie name when browsing, and was pitched as it having monsters in it to deal with. Sometimes, that’s really all it takes to decide on watching a movie - and when it comes to it, the box art is pretty snazzy as well. I will give it to Netflix and a lot of these digital services for video these days, they at least help keep the feel of the old rental place perusal, where you could literally look at a picture and title and go “yep, that’s for me tonight.” If they add a “back of the box” feature, then it’d be pretty dang perfect. Who knows what we are getting ourselves into, grab a scarf and let’s dive in with these “web footed humanoids” to find out
First off, there isn’t nearly as much cold as I would have originally thought. Probably a bit of a mix up in my head over Antarctic and Arctic I suppose, but really that’s only a hit against me trying to theme it with the fact it’s darn cold outside. Our story here follows a man getting put on a rather remote island where he and a lighthouse technician whose already been there will be staying. His stated reason is to collect weather data, but you won’t see him doing much of that this movie - no sir. See, not too long after his arrival, he happens to find out they aren’t the only thing on this island - a whole bunch of fish-people are banging around, and they might not be very friendly. In their defense, I’d probably get really surly if someone stomped on my hand and stabbed me in the eye with a knife too, but who really understands fish people? The rest of the movie time is spent following the lead as he groups up with the somewhat unfriendly tech and they try to survive the waves of creatures - but as luck would have it, things aren’t entirely as they seem.
It’s a straight forward plot, but it leaves a metric crap-ton of mysteries to be figured out as you go. What are the creatures? Whose the tech? Why would anyone want to be on the island anyways? Just what exactly is going on? Some of this you’ll get some answers to, such as whose the tech. Some of it you sort of get answers to, such as what is going on. Some of it you’ll just have to imagine - like what is going on with those creatures. The flow of it all is somewhat strange though. The movie itself really isn’t all that long, clocking in at 108 minutes - but at times it certainly feels longer than it is (or perhaps it just feels it’s actual length as opposed to flying by). Sometimes it feels like a reasonable thing - something being used to build up character or a reveal of some sort. Other times, it feels like it’s lingering for the sole purpose of just making time pass, which does indeed make time pass but in the most bland of ways. Similar things can happen in a lot of artsy movies, when they try and make you feel like what happens on the screen is real deep - but I also never quite got the feel for if the movie actually wanted me to believe it has something super deep I should be thinking about or just trying to make it seem more like it’s in the time period it happens to be set in.
Despite being tagged with only a few genres, part of the plot pacing feeling a bit slow might have to do with more types feeling like they are getting shoved in there. For a period of time, I really thought this movie was going to turn into a gender-swapped Shape of Water. Like, the semi-uncomfortable romance vibes were floating all over the place, and I have got to be honest - I don’t think I have it in me for more fish-banging movies. To help turn it around however, the movie injects far more action and horror or thriller elements into it. The mystery elements in themselves might be a condition of the horror, as the unknown is more frightening most the time, but even those are in there as I already alluded to with the plethora of questions the movie doesn’t always answer. The horror starts strong, but slowly turns more into a somewhat psychological horror when we shift attention from the monsters to the tech and his seemingly unstable and often ruthless mentalities. The action crops up across the movie, usually engaging the screen as a fight sequence as webs versus flats battle it out to not be lunch.
I did enjoy those action scenes, but I’m will point out that they have a tendency for a lot of cuts. Sometimes it’s merited - a quick snap from one angle to the reverse, or flipping from one character to the other - but other times it’s not. When it gets slightly more jarring it ends up feeling as though it was done to combine two takes to make one “better” take, but some of the fights might end up giving you a little whiplash - which is somewhat impressive, considering it’s not like this is a kung fu movie or anything of that sort. The other complication some might have with this is that the vast majority of action happens in the dark, leading to things perhaps not being as crisply visible as some would hope. I’d argue it’s still better lit than AvP: R however, as you can actually see things on the screen and going on - but the only real reason you’ll know which character is in the action shot during those rapid cuts is because they look pretty individual from each other.
The actual acting count is relatively low here, with arguably three main characters, one of which is a creature and largley has to act through body language at best. The two humans do a fine enough job, with the main lunatic of the two doing a great job in making you question everything he does across the movie. One would argue that he’s more so the better character of the two humans, as the other does a fine job but doesn’t really stand out much in any real considerable way. The fact that he also serves as the narrator only helps it feel as though the character could have had some better parts to make them stand out a bit over the lunatic beside them, but at the very least it largely isn’t a bad job either. Audio in regards to this is fine as well - although one could point out that there’s a bit of a dual-audio thing going on with the creature sounds, where a breathing and more creature like sound gets overlapped on each other, causing the non-breathing sound to feel somewhat out of place. Most of the actor lines all work nicely as well - although I do need to bring something up that is maybe a bit of a spoiler to some extent. When the lead tells the other that the other is no murderer, he just sort of starts going on repeating the word love - and maybe there is something more to it, but it feels like the repetitious love comes a bit out of left field at face value. So much so that I actually rewound and turned on the subtitles to make sure I had heard the delivery before it and what he was saying correctly - to which I had. That would be more points against the writing than the actors at any rate, but it’s about that point it feels like someone hit the red button and said “alright, let’s just wrap this up.”
Effects wise we have a pretty consistently good job. The costume work looks nice, and the occasional CG rendition of the monsters don’t always look bad either. Some certainly aren’t believable, but it’s at least put together in a manner that still works. You will get the occasional monster who just moves too fast in a strange way that takes you out of the belief of them actually being there, but it does work with the idea of these agile little humanoid creatures, and some nice details were put into them as well - such as some leg embellishments that fan out when they are in the water to make their legs function more like a shark fin. The more impressive moments tend to outweigh the moments where it disappoints, so I’d largely call it a win in that regard. The character costumes look appropriate for when it was supposed to be, including the bulking up of gear for winter and a very timely (and goofy) diving suit. Being able to tell the two characters apart largely comes down to their facial appearance though, so it is nice that they give you some manner of being able to tell the two apart even in the darker scenes.
In the end, it was an interesting enough movie. It has some over-cutting at times, and the movie can be a bit dark, but it’s normally not hard to see whats going on. The film provides more questions than it answers, and perhaps they meant for it to be deeper than I had cared to think about - but even at a superficial level you can pull out some themes if you wanted to. It at times feels a bit artsy with how it plays out it’s time and some of the moments of quoting various older quotes, but even with the negatives available in the movie it’s still a decent lit movie that keeps you interested. Granted, it also might keep you a bit at length with all the fish-loving, but at least it provides some thrills and action to make up for it.