Based on the novel “Tarantula” by Theirry Jonquet, Spanish director Pedro Almodovar weaves a chilling, horrific and yet romantic tale about revenge spun from the world of Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein.” While tedious, and at times, a bit overly complex, the overall piece of work is worth piecing together for a near-shocking finale that’s like a Disney version of A Serbian Film or Kill List.
Antonio Banderes plays Dr. Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon with a tragic past that quietly sneaks up on the viewer to present day. The movie begins with a bizarre experiment that’s afoot in his mansion. A woman named “Vera” (played by the beautiful Elena Abaya) is having her skin transplanted – finally becoming “perfect” – to which she propositions the doctor as if she’s desperate for something new (the process apparently has taken quite some time). The audience is then jolted back and forth between Ledgard’s past and present like “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride;” his wife died after a horrible car accident where she nearly burned to death, his daughter was raped and went insane, etc. etc. With a running time of over two-hours (some sequences are even unnecessarily revisited in flashbacks from alternate angles), it can be quite punishing and frustrating on the viewer. This is Almodovar’s master plan to build the mind-blowing third act into demented perfection.
While it’s safe to call The Skin I Live In a romantic thriller, the horror elements are buried deep within and begin to claw their way out by the third act. The scope of the film and cinematography add so much to this demented tale, building Banderes into a Dr. Frankenstein that’s far superior in strength to the twisted minds of The Human Centipede (although much more composed). While a film like Human Centipede is designed to shock, The Skin I Live In is specifically meant to purely define each character and engage the viewer by pulling on their empathetic strings. It’s so in depth that sometimes the viewer will find his/herself completely confused as to who’s good and who’s bad. It’s a wicked genre dance that literally has to be seen to believe.
The Skin I Live In is overly complex, yet Almodovar somehow finds a way to wrangle the beast in. It isn’t the kind of genre film anyone will expect and it will catch many off guard. The best way to describe it is as a romanticized, modern day adaptation of “Frankenstein” that ends with bite. Don’t attempt to solve the puzzle, wait until it’s complete. Almodovar puts it on display for you and the full work of art is stunning.