SKIN WALKER (2020)
Directed by Christian Neuman
Written by Christian Neuman
Starring Udo Kier, Amber Anderson, Jefferson Hall, Sophie Mousel, Luc Feit, Luc Schiltz, Bérangère Mc Neese, Sarah Lamesch, Rita Bentos Dos Reis, Marja-Leena Junker, Tony Hegarty, Juliette Gillis
I’m a fan of descent into madness stories, but there needs to be some kind of grounding in order to descend from. SKIN WALKER is a story that is built on very shaky ground. It follows a young woman named Regine (Amber Anderson) who seems to be slumming it in the big city with her boyfriend, but is called back to her stately manor in a Luxembourg village when her grandmother passes away. SKIN WALKER contains gritty and fearless performances by its lead, but instead of fascination, I felt off put by the way it was all displayed. I’ll try to get to the bottom of my discomfort by the end of this review.
Once back in her family home, things start going down hill pretty quickly for Regina. Her father (Udo Kier) is more unstable than ever and will not talk with her about her mother’s commitment in a mental institution. A family scandal resurfaces when Robert (HALLOWEEN 2018’s Jefferson Hall) reappears. Years ago, Robert had an affair with Regina’s mother, bearing a child, Isaac with her. Regina remembers the child to be horribly deformed and to have died soon after birth. But Robert proclaims that the child survived and is living somewhere in the decadent mansion. The strange noises around the castle suggest that Robert is right and Regina sets out to find her brother, despite her father’s urgings for her to leave.
I think one of the biggest problems with SKIN WALKER is that Anderson really commits to the crazy and doesn’t care if she retains any semblance of likability or relatability. There is a gradual decline in Regine’s mental decline is gradual, she really does some despicable things like attempting to sleep with Robert, her mother’s lover, and having a violent episode in the middle of her grandmother’s funeral service. While Kier’s father is supposed to be an imposing figure and Robert is supposed to be some kind of threat to the stability of the family, these are the characters you sympathize with when Regine has one of her fits. Their discomfort is the feeling I felt most powerfully, but I think this film still wants the viewer to empathize with Regine. This confusion of who to believe, who to empathize with, and who to follow is what lost me pretty much at the half way point and I never really regained that investment.
I will say that this is a fearless performance by Amber Anderson as Regine. Her contortions, self harm, aimless running, and violent outbursts are convincing to the point of being rough to watch. The story doesn’t hold back in showing the nightmare world that is happening through Regine’s eyes. If SKIN WALKER is successful at anything, it’s transporting the viewer into the head of a very unwell mind. The problem is that I think it does it so well that sympathy is something that is completely lost, even before Regine goes completely off the reservation. The disorientation is too successful at giving the viewer no perspective at all to grip onto as Regine’s life swirls.
One might think that the title of the film is referring to the Native American legend of the Skinwalker, a common monster that even to this day is the subject of many a Creepypasta and cryptid documentary. I have no idea why this film is called SKIN WALKER as it bares no similarity to the modern legend. Just another oddity to add to an already odd film.
SKIN WALKER has some great effects, specifically the practical appliances used in the Isaac makeup. I also thought the high-pitched voice of the deformed man was an especially creepy detail. SKIN WALKER is not without its moments, but overall it’s an aimless look inside a sick mind where structure is tossed out the window too soon and never comes back.