Movie Review: The Skin I Live In

By Stephen Rebello

Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodovar delivers a horror story without the frights.

September 23, 2011 Director: Pedro Almodovar MPAA Rating: ® Studio: El Deseo

Pedro Almodovar delivers on his promise to make The Skin I Live In “a horror story without screams or frights.” But horrifying the Spanish writer-director’s newest most definitely is—even minus genre clichés.

Almodovar has done more than disturb and entertain with his latest cinematic act of provocation. He’s made a lush, mesmerizing, utterly gonzo revenge melodrama that is from start to finish the twisted, sexy, unmistakable work of a master filmmaker. On the evidence of Almodovar’s film output since 1980, a pretty good case could be made for this being a kind of spiritual love child of Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Bunuel with, maybe, Douglas Sirk and David Cronenberg as midwives.

His newest is based on a screenplay written with his brother Augustin Almodovar and taken from Thierry Jonquet’s 2003 novel Mygale (Tarantula). Happily, he has lured Antonio Banderas back to his stock company after several decades to play a wealthy, respected cosmetic surgeon whose suave, chilly, couture-tailored “skin" covers several lifetimes of trauma and hang-ups. It seems like the horrifying mutilation and eventual loss of his wife after a fiery car accident has turned Banderas into an obsessive, tortured Dr. Frankenstein. After all, he keeps captive a mysterious young beauty (Elena Anaya) on whom he spies courtesy of closed-circuit big screen televisions while she reads, stares back and practices yoga wearing a stitched-together flesh-colored unitard. Apparently, the surgeon’s victim has developed a sadomasochistic, Stockholm Syndrome-type attraction for Banderas, even though the good doctor has been dangerously and illegally experimenting on her in his torture porn-ready lab.

Further weirdness gets provided by the doctor’s ferociously protective housekeeper (Almodovar stalwart Marisa Paredes) and her brutish son (Roberto Alamo), the latter of whom bursts into Banderas’ private compound half-naked and costumed as a tiger, soon spies the sexy Anaya on a kitchen TV screen, gets aroused, and, well…we’d better stop right there. The less you know before stepping into Almodovar’s baroque, elegant spiderweb, the better.

The Skin I Live In hinges on some fairly insane plot revelations and convoluted zigzag flashbacks, all delivered by the cast with straight-faced, operatic intensity against the backdrop of immaculate, almost Kubrick-like sets, hypnotic camera moves and Alberto Iglesias’ swooning score. Anaya (apparently pinch-hitting for Penelope Cruz) is visually arresting and highly compelling. Banderas matches her so beautifully that it ought to be mandatory that he and Almodovar collaborate on at least one movie yearly. Even if The Skin I Live In doesn’t pack the emotional punch of peak performance Almodovar, it’s macabre, malicious, pleasurably perverse fun.

About the Author

Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2012. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.


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