You know you’re in trouble if a movie begins with a Nietzsche quote. Cold Skin goes all in with Nietzsche’s warning about becoming a monster while fighting monsters and what happens when you look into the abyss. It’s an apt introduction to the film as it tells you everything you’ll need to know about what follows. You are about to watch something trite that thinks it’s deeper than it is.
A nameless man (David Oakes) travels to an island in the middle of nowhere to track wind patterns for a term of one year. The meteorologist he means to replace is nowhere to be found and the island’s only other inhabitant, Gruner (Ray Stevenson) informs him that the man has died. Supposedly he went nuts and walked into the ocean, but on his first night, the man is attacked by some kind of otherworldly fish monster that seems a more likely culprit. With some convincing, he finally gets Gruner to tell him what’s really going on with this island. It’s pretty simple, really: Fish monsters, l lots of them.
Night after night, the man and Gruner post up atop the island’s lighthouse and fight off hordes of fish monsters, who seemingly wish to murder them. The movie doesn’t make it clear how two dudes firing one round at a time can take out so many, but somehow they manage. Over and over again. And again. If you like the idea of watching people shoot guns in the dark with no real consequence, this must be the movie of your dreams. Gruner also keeps one of these fish things as a maid and sex slave, so if you thought violence and abundant cruelty was missing from The Shape of Water, this is also a movie for you. I’d advise anyone else to steer clear.
It should not surprise you to learn that the unnamed protagonist slowly begins to see culture and humanity in the creatures and comes to sympathize with them. There is probably a colonial theme at play that is likely very smart. But this is such a miserable, interminable experience that I don’t care to give it any more time or thought. The film is based on Albert Sánchez Piñol’s novel, and I have a feeling that’s a much better avenue for exploring the story’s deeper meanings.
The film does look beautiful, though. The landscape and ocean waves are lovingly captured, giving the film an unceasing sense of cold, hard struggle and dread. David Oakes and Ray Stevenson do their best to convey their roles, though the script makes Gruner’s constant tyranny tiresome early in, and both speak dialog that is often difficult to understand.
Cold Skin is definitely a meditative, thoughtful monster movie, but its ideas seem shallow and their presentation demands too much patience from its audience for what ends up being a rather simple resolution. It’s clear from the get-go these monsters are not just wild beasts. Why spend a whole movie watching a character’s slow, miserable journey toward discovering what we have long sussed out for ourselves? No film is that pretty.