Wednesday, March 7, 2012

On DVD/Blu-ray: THE SKIN I LIVE IN (2011); THE DEAD (2011)

(Spain - 2011)

Famed Spanish arthouse auteur Pedro Almodovar comes awfully close to making a Mad Doctor horror film with THE SKIN I LIVE IN, but seems to be allowing his classy reputation to hold him back, almost as if he can't deign to make a mere genre picture.  In Toledo, Spain, widower surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is holding a young woman, Vera (Elena Anaya) captive.  She's locked in a room and his dutiful housekeeper Marilia (Marisa Peredes) helps him keep an eye on her via closed circuit TV and cameras.  Ledgard works in experimental, and ethically dubious, skin growth techniques and has been using Vera as a lab rat for several years.  An extended flashback reveals the backstory for both Robert and Vera.  To go into that here would be impossible without major spoilers, but I can say that the way Almodovar lets the story unfold makes the film play like a suspense thriller directed by someone who doesn't watch many suspense thrillers.  There was one clever surprise on Almodovar's part with the set-up of Vera's portion of the flashback, but aside from that, I found every twist to be laborious in its revelation, like Almodovar was sucking the life right out of the film. Almodovar's never been one to hold things back, and this plot has a number of sick and demented turns, but he seems hesitant to let things cut loose here.  It's an inherently delirious story that almost demands to be played at least a little over-the-top.  Or perhaps it just wasn't the film I wanted it to be.  Banderas and Anaya deliver solid performances (Anaya in particular is very good) and the film is very nicely-shot (especially the interiors in Ledgard's fortress-like mansion) by veteran cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine, but I just didn't find much here.  Maybe a revisit sometime down the road... (R, 120 mins)

(UK - 2011)

Given a small theatrical release last fall and appearing on DVD/Blu-ray a few weeks ago to much chatter among horror scenesters, the British zombie film THE DEAD offers little other than a unique setting.  Shot in Ghana and Burkina Faso, THE DEAD has a zombie outbreak throughout the African continent. US Army engineer Rob Freeman, the sole survivor of a plane crash, and local military man Prince David Osei, who's trying to head north to be with his son, form a tentative alliance as they...drive.  It's an undead road movie in many ways, with some occasionally effective zombies of the slow, shambling, staggering variety.  Unfortunately, "slow, shambling, and staggering" also describes the film in general.  Freeman has to be one of the dullest leading men I've seen in years.  And directors The Ford Brothers don't always use the African locations to their full potential.  Shots often look as if the actors are standing in front of a greenscreen.  THE DEAD was reportedly a difficult shoot--Freeman became seriously ill with malaria--but it doesn't show.  Maybe it's the way they shot it or the digital video or the over-reliance on tight shots or whatever, but for a film shot in dangerous areas and rugged terrain, it looks oddly stagebound and CGI-enhanced.  Except for some establishing shots, you rarely get the feeling that you're watching something shot on location.  Osei is the best thing about the film, and I wish he was the lead instead of the bland Freeman.  I don't know if US distributor Anchor Bay had message board denizens street-teaming the hell out of this or what, but I'm not buying the hype.  THE DEAD squanders its potential and becomes nothing more than an utterly superfluous footnote to the already overcrowded zombie genre. (R, 105 mins)

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