“The Skin I Live In” inhabits a very dark and depraved corner of the horror genre, the body horror film that directors such as David Cronenberg made famous. Generally obsessed with the human body and ways that it can be horrifically distorted to gain groans from an audience, the genre was spotlighted earlier this year with “The Human Centipede II.” But “The Skin I Live In” manages to put that film to shame with its restrained, carefully executed story of a scientist consumed by a very strange obsession.
Trying to solve the puzzle director Pedro Almodóvar has assembled for his audience is one of the greatest delights of “The Skin I Live In,” so it’s best to know as little as possible going into the film. Scientist Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) lives a subdued life, giving presentations about a synthetic, hyper-resistant skin he’s manufactured using means that may be less than ethical and tending to house guest/prisoner Vera (Elena Anaya). Robert’s servant, Marilia (Marisa Paredes), goes about her tasks quietly while trying to stifle her own conscience about the obvious immorality of Vera’s captive status, but when her son Zeca (Roberto Alamo) pays a fateful visit to the family home, Robert’s carefully constructed house of cards starts to collapse.
While all that’s outlined above sounds relatively innocuous, if not a bit odd, be assured that Almodóvar has crafted a delightfully weird film here, the intricacies of its plot slowly revealing themselves to the audience. Almodóvar makes every revelation land with just the right amount of dramatic weight and keeps the film from getting too ridiculous or serious.
Banderas is currently packing multiplexes with families eager to hear him lend a voice to the precocious “Puss in Boots,” but his work here is the exact opposite. He delivers a creepy yet suave performance; apppropriate, as he is one of Almodóvar’s oldest collaborators.
Banderas’ intensity is nicely balanced by Anaya’s enigmatic work as Vera. Until we learn Vera’s backstory in an extended flashback in the second act, Anaya is forced to play things quite mysteriously, which she does well, but truly begins to shine in the film’s back half.
For those new to Almodóvar, “The Skin I Live In” would make as good a jumping in point as any. The film is filled with strong composition, good performances, and he impeccably meshes his images with Alberto Iglesias’ memorable score to create a deeply creepy and hugely entertaining horror film.