"A mad scientist keeps a woman locked up in a bedroom so he can do all sorts of bizarre surgical things to her."
Sounds like a typical low-budget torture-laden horror flick, doesn't it? Something clearly inspired by Saw or Hostel, but just (slightly) different enough to entice a hungry distributor?
Nope. The Skin I Live In is nothing like that.
Or maybe, given the premise, perhaps the movie is a bizarre misfire like Boxing Helena, the infamous film in which Julian Sands keeps chopping the limbs off of Sherilyn Fenn, or I Know Who Killed Me, in which Lindsay Lohan plays a limb-losing stripper?
No, thank god, The Skin I Live In is nothing like those films. Directed by the prolific Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, it's the story of a brilliant, handsome, meticulous plastic surgeon ... who just happens to have a facially deformed woman locked away in a comfortable bedroom inside his beautiful mansion. On the plus side, Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is only a few advances away from perfecting an amazingly strong "synthetic skin" that could do wonders for the deformed and the damaged, but (of course) on the negative side of the equation is the fact that the doctor's experiments are patently illegal. Ah, and also there's that mysterious prisoner he keeps drugged and locked away at all times.
Much more than just another "mad but ostensibly well-intentioned scientist" tale, The Skin I Live In (aka La Piel Que Habito) offers powerful food-for-thought in the darker areas of human sexuality, the nature of co-dependency, and the origins of unhealthy obsession. Almodovar presents a two-tiered structure, with Ledgard's story driving us forward, while a series of gradually more cohesive flashbacks offer numerous insights as to how the doctor became so quietly insane. Expeditiously paced for a film running a solid two hours, the back-and-forth pattern allows for some novel revelations and provides a palpable sense of icy dread as the two story threads draw closer.
Gorgeous to look at (this is Almodovar), sometimes frustrating, quietly unsettling and, frequently, darkly amusing, The Skin I Live In may not be your typical slam-bang conventional horror movie, but it combines enough that's genre-friendly and accessible with the trademark style of a truly unique and "artsy" filmmaker. The Skin I Live In has a lot to say about love, loyalty, affection, and obsession, and it does so in a way that offers a little culture and off-kilter class in service of a premise that, when all is said and done, is pretty damn horrific.