Pedro Almodovar is the auteur that David Lynch strives to be, but falls abysmally short. Almodovar said it best when he described his latest film, The Skin I Live In, as “a horror story without screams or frights.” In fact, this is the most disconcertingly quiet horror film you’ll ever see, set mostly in an opulent home in Toledo, Spain with a lush musical soundtrack by Alberto Iglesias.
All the Almodovar trademarks are present in this dark tale of tragedy, sex, obsession, madness, violence, and sinister genius.
The story begins in 2012 at the estate of renowned plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas). The house is also home to the good doctor’s medical laboratory, operating room, prison, and violation of medical ethics. To say that Dr. Ledgard is Dr. Frankenstein-gone-crazy would be an understatement.
Ledgard has discovered a burn-proof skin that he’s transplanted onto his strikingly beautiful prisoner Vera (Elena Anaya). The woman is dressed head-to-toe in a compression garment that oddly looks haute couture (Jean-Paul Gautier happens to be the costume designer for the film). Marilia (Marisa Paredes), Ledgard’s housekeeper, also serves as his outspoken prison guard.
Things begin to veer out of Ledgard’s iron-grip, calculated control when Marilia’s son, a burglar on the run dressed as a Carnival tiger, shows up demanding that the doctor perform a face transplant on him. While waiting for the doctor to arrive home, the tiger-man notices on the many security monitors in the house that the prisoner looks exactly like the doctor’s dead wife. Intimating a dark past with the doctor and his wife, the tiger-man proceeds to break into the prisoner’s cell and rape her.
In Almodovar-ian fashion, the plot suddenly goes back six years involving Ledgard’s wife who was burned in a horrific fire and then commits suicide when she sees her deformed reflection, and their teenage daughter’s brief but pivotal involvement with a boy named Vicente.
How the past and future-present weave together in nonlinear fashion to a disturbing revelation and resolution is the shocking and thrilling payoff that only Almodovar could pull off so seemingly effortlessly.