The creepy, crampy Skin I Live In

This stylistic departure from Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar is one of the oddest films to screen in Memphis this year.

Almodóvar might get more consistent, widespread theatrical distribution in America than any other contemporary non-English-language filmmaker. His vibrant, sexy, soap-opera-style films — often starring Penelope Cruz — have built a strong stateside following. Almodóvar's films often have thriller elements, but as far as I know he's never delved into horror territory until now.

In The Skin I Live In, Antonio Banderas plays stiffly against type as a brilliant plastic surgeon who keeps a woman, Vera (Elena Anaya), as an apparently willing prisoner on whom he experiments with what at first seems to be only a skin-graft procedure but turns out — as we get backstories on both main characters — to be much, much more.

There's plenty of familiar Almodóvar touches: It's a bright, visually opulent film, with beautiful people (most strikingly Anaya, perhaps best known for the cult hit Sex & Lucia), a twisty structure, and operatic emotions.

But The Skin I Live In seems consciously rooted in cinematic influences far afield of Almodóvar's normal work. The most obvious antecedent is Georges Franju's poetic 1959 French film Eyes Without a Face, where a plastic surgeon attempts to rebuild his disfigured daughter's face using beautiful young women he kidnaps. There's more than a little cool, Cronenbergian body-horror here and an unmistakable whiff of contemporary torture-horror in the vein of Hostel or The Human Centipede. In other words, some nasty, disturbing, genuinely unpleasant stuff that amounts to an unusually sinister riff on Almodóvar's frequent topic of sexual identity.

The Skin I Live In's unsteady blend of creep and camp is likely to unsettle anyone hoping for cinematic comforts Almodóvar usually provides. But for film buffs interested in watching an established auteur swing wildly against type, it's a compelling curiosity.

The Skin I Live In
Opening Friday, November 18th
Ridgeway Four

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