Cold Skin is a 2017 French-Spanish science fiction/horror film directed by Xavier Gens. In 1914, a young Irishman whom we come to know as “Friend” travels to a remote island in the South Atlantic to work as a meteorologist. Once there, he discovers a drunk, unkempt lighthouse keeper named Gruner. He coldly informs Friend that his predecessor had passed away on the island. However, it soon becomes clear that something far more extraordinary and sinister is taking place on the eerie, secluded refuge.
Upon arriving at the island, Friend discovers strange formations of rocks on the beach. Afterwards, he arrives at the cabin he will be staying at. Friend finds the former meteorologist’s diary and what he reads is troubling. The notes talk of freakish creatures that come from the sea at night. Not long after, Friend is attacked by a monster. He survives after managing to impale the appendage of the beast. Understandably, he races to the fortified lighthouse but his cries go unanswered. The next night, he arms himself with a rifle as the creatures attack in greater numbers. Once again he scares them away but accidently burns down his cabin in the process.
The next day he observes Gruner leaving the lighthouse. He follows him down to the rocks where he discovers a female sea creature with Gruner. Friend soon comes to learn that it is his pet and sex slave. He offers Gruner ammunition and other supplies if he is willing to let him stay in the lighthouse, which Gruner accepts. Every night, the “Toads” attack the lighthouse. Gruner stands on a raised platform and kills as many of the rampaging beasts as he can until the sun rises. The horror of seeing this causes Friend to faint which angers Gruner greatly. The next night, he traps Friend on the balcony forcing him to fight for his life. In the morning, Gruner discovers Friend alive and covered in the blood of the creatures.
The two men settle into a routine, the creatures attack for many nights and sometimes not at all but they must always keep watch. Tensions rise over Gruner’s mysterious pet, which Friend grows to like. Gruner abuses her physically and sexually, treating her like some kind of dumb animal. Friend often sees a completely different side to her and they become close, which secretly angers the already unstable Gruner.
Friend and Gruner devise a plan to destroy the sea creatures, planning to lure many of them in close to the lighthouse by leaving the door open before setting off dynamite around it.
Cold Skin is a tale that feels almost too familiar. It shares many similarities to films such as; King Kong, Planet of the Apes & even the very recent The Shape of Water. However, at the same time it manages to deliver something very different. Firstly, I must praise the wonderful location used in the film. There is lots of wonderful cinematography of the stunning volcanic island throughout. Secondly, the performances by Ray Stevenson as Gruner, David Oakes as Friend and Aura Garrido as the female creature named Aneris are truly high quality.
The creatures or “Toads” are very intimidating. They are extremely ferocious when simply dealing with one but in greater numbers they are quite frightening. The effects used on them and Aneris is simplistic but effective.
Cold Skin has an intriguing opening. Immediately, the question as to why Friend is taking this job in the first place is raised. However, while the answer can be insinuated I cannot deny that I never fully understood the intentions of Friend. He’s a very hard character to read, that’s for sure. I mean, we never even learn his real name. He’s just referred to as “Friend” in the credits. Thankfully, the aquatic monsters are introduced very quickly which helps to keep the momentum going. Unfortunately, Cold Skin soon slows down to the point it somehow almost becomes rather boring.
Regardless, I commend the film for being completely unexpected. You would never fathom it to go the way it does based on the opening alone. Ultimately, it feels like social commentary on humanity and the attempted destruction of a species that we simply do not understand or give a chance to understand.
A tale of morality, in a time of war and xenophobia. It’s a moody, bleak film that displays the psychological damage of solitary confinement.