COLD SKIN - "From the Briny Deep, Lovecraft Lives!"

First, Guillermo DelToro touched our hearts with a story about a woman who falls in love with a fish. But now, in a what lays rooted in Lovecraft lore, Xavier Gen tells a story that explores a man, and HIS love for a fish. Well, when you boil "Cold Skin" down that's what you're left with, but it has more going for than some sappy interspecies love story.

Based on the book of the same title by Albert Sanches Pinol, "Cold Skin" is influenced by the H.P. Lovecraft tale "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", about a small fishing village who discover a race of fish like humanoids living just of the coast. Once times get tough, they reach out the the race for help in sustaining themselves. This effort evolves into cult ritual and human sacrifice to appease the sea creatures, who have also begun mating with the local townspeople.

With that in mind, "Cold Skin" deviates from Lovecraft's tale with David Oakes' unnamed character who has enlisted to be sent away to record meteorological data on a remote island in the Antarctic Circle. This all takes place in 1914, during the Great War, which our narrator is trying to avoid, in a time when the sun never set on the British flag. This task will keep him stranded at the edge of the world for one year with the only human contact being Gruner, a grizzled son of an ol' salt for a lighthouse operator at the other end of the island.

Upon arriving, our Friend learns that the man he is to relieve has mysteriously gone missing and is presumed dead. He starts to piece it together that this island isn't quite what it seems when he observes how Gruner has fortified his lighthouse to repel an attack. But from who? And why? This British outpost is so remote, it is far removed from the unfolding World War, but has offered up a new war that our Friend is also reluctant to fight.

Speaking of fights, it isn't long before our Friend is attacked in the night be a group of mer-men warriors who burn his new home to the ground, for reasons that aren't yet apparent to him. After surviving the evening, he reaches out to Gruner for help and for answers. And after making his way across the island to Gruner's lighthouse fortification, it is revealed that Gruner is holding a beautiful young mer-lady captive as his sex slave companion. And with that, all of our Friend's questions have been answered. “Who the mer creatures are?”, “Why they attacked?”, and “What happened to the last meteorologist?”.

Night after night, the two men repel that attacks of the seemingly primitive mer-men. For our Friend it is to survive and for Gruner it is for extinction, as he's of the mind that these inferior creatures are there to be used or exterminated – hammering home the notion that mankind shall own dominion over the creatures of the Earth.

After months of being stranded on the island and in the middle of Gruner's war, our main character starts to learn from the sea-slave, about her culture and their history as her youthful innocence, and beauty warm his heart. Eventually he works to set her free, but not before the fighting and terror of what man is capable of weighs heavily on him, changing him forever.

"Cold Skin" is a nice little visitation from Lovecraft. The setting and emotions of the film are bleak and really made me feel that all of this was really happening in a part of the world that was as beautiful as it was isolated and dangerous – like the sea people themselves.

The technical elements of the film; the acting, the story, the pacing, ect - are all without fault, but I couldn't help but think there was something missing from making the film really great. The actions of Oake's character feel flat. His motivations are apparent and understandable, but as I watched it, I kept expecting him to do more. To fight Grunger head on and free Aneris (the sea woman in question). To reach out to the race of sea people to make peace and offer up an apology from Man to Mer-Man, but this never happens. And with the unfolding romance, it became something that I expected, but also felt strange considering she was just kept captive and used for sex and moments later is having sex with a new human man. Perhaps this is an underlying message about Aneris being in control and consenting... Maybe?

Beyond all that, this story was interesting to me as a commentary on the British colonization of the outside world. The old saying the the sun never sets on the Union Jack (for those who don't know) is in reference to the various territory held by the British at it's peak of power. Their influence was global. Spending the time and money to maintain two men on an island – of little to no importance - in the middle of nowhere at all times is is a display of power and bureaucratic decision making that only a first world power will make.

Furthermore, Grunger's attitude toward the Lovecraftian beings is something that is historically shared by world powers. The unsophisticated and uncivilized are there to be conquered, put to work, exported and exploited. This is something seen time and time again in life and in art. It's what's at the heart of stories like "The Creature From the Black Lagoon" - another sea creature love story.

But enough of that. "Cold Skin" is a great addition into the Cthulhu mythos, but as a film standing on it's own merits, it's just pretty good.

"Cold Skin" was adapted by Jesús Olmo (20 Days Later) and Eron Sheean who has also worked together with director Xavier Gen on "The Divide", about a group of people surviving the days following a nuclear attack.

Made available on various VOD platforms by Samuel Goldwyn Films earlier this month (DVD & BLU-RAY soon), and also the film made an appearance at this years "Fantasia Festival". "Cold Skin" might offer a better pay-off to you who follow the Elder Things but it's also worth checking out by the average cinephile.


★ ★ ★

"In 1914, a young man arrives at a remote island near the Antarctic Circle to take the post of weather observer only to find himself trapped in a watchtower besieged by deadly creatures which live in hiding on the island."