You can always count on the Slamdance Film Festival to include at least one horror movie on its annual slate. The fest (justifiably) prides itself on “discovering“ the 2008 megahit Paranormal Activity––as well as Yellow Brick Road, Atrocious, Zombie Girl, and a host of other genre titles over the years. Other than a few short films, the only movie in the 2012 lineup that sounded vaguely horror-centric was writer/director Derek Franson’s Comforting Skin, about a young woman mentally besieged by her upper back tattoo. And while it begins with a beguiling Twilight Zone vibe and ends with a burst of gruesome violence, it doesn’t really work as a horror movie. To be honest, it’s hard to tell if Comforting Skin works as anything at all.
Koffie is a sad, single, suicidal woman trying to get over a bad break-up with a local art dealer. Her gay roommate Nate tries to be supportive, but he’s a mentally tortured composer with anxiety issues of his own. Late one night, feeling particularly despondent, Koffie is drawn to a secluded tattoo parlor and impulsively gets a back tattoo. It’s nothing special, just a random spiky symbol––pretty ugly, actually. But the new ink leaves Koffie brimming with loads of newfound confidence. The next day she’s bold enough to confront her ex-lover at his home, and even makes a pass at gay Nate. Predictably, both encounters blow up in her face, sending Koffie into a spiral of deep despair. And that’s when her new tattoo starts talking to her.
Victoria Bidewell is fantastic in the role of Koffie, and the scenes centered around her increasingly deranged relationship with her tattoo are the stuff the best psychological thrillers are made of. Think Lucky McKee’s May, for example. But after its supremely eerie first act, Comforting Skin disintegrates into a boring indie melodrama, complete with overwrought arguments and tedious grievances. Seeming hours of screen time are devoted to the trivialities of Koffie‘s relationships with her BFFs, and the talking tattoo plotline is practically abandoned. Comforting Skin isn’t a horror film, or a drama, or a psychological thriller, although it could qualify as any of these if it wanted to. It’s refusal to commit is what makes it so inconsequential.