Cold Skin [movie and book review]

“We are never very far from those we hate. For this very reason, we shall never be truly close to those we love."

I was looking for new movies to watch and I read about the movie Cold Skin from Caitlin R. Kiernan's blog. It is adapted from the book originally written in Catalan, La Pell Freda by the Spanish author Albert Sánchez Piñol. I read the English version of the book after the movie so I'll talk about it later in the post.

The summary: "In 1914, on the edge of the Antarctic Circle, a ship approaches a desolate island, far from all shipping lanes. On board is a young man who is on his way to assume the post of weather observer and live in solitude at the end of the earth. He finds no trace of the man he has been sent to replace, just a deranged castaway who has witnessed a horror he refuses to name. For the next twelve months, his entire world will consist of a deserted cabin, trees, rocks, silence, and the surrounding sea."

A young man named Friend is assigned as a weather official in a remote island for one year. He is set to replace the former weather official, but he is nowhere to be found. In this desolate job, there is only one other person on the island - Gruner, the lighthouse caretaker. They don't exactly meet on good terms. Little did Friend know that Gruner has kept useful information - like the horde of amphibious, humanoid sea creatures that attack at night. When Friend loses everything to a fire in an attempt to defeat the creatures, he and Gruner must know work together in the lighthouse to fend off the monsters attacking them each night.

Aura Garrido plays the female 'sea monster'
Gruner has many secrets, and Friend finds out that he keeps a female creature as a slave. Friend struggles with survival, his rocky relationship with Grunner, his growing sympathy for the creatures and his feelings developing for Gruner's slave. Think The Shape of Water, gender-reversed, but bloodier and more inexplicable. Yes, it goes to that, if that's what you're thinking. 

Friend and Aneris
Gruner and the lighthouse
Gruner hates these creatures, and Friend seems to go along to survive. Friend discovers that Gruner physically and sexually abuses the creature, though it's unclear why she's staying. Soon, Friend and the creature bond and form a friendship. He gives her a name, Aneris (which is an anagram of the word sirena or mermaid). After many attacks, the creatures seem to be communicating a truce to the humans, but Gruner doesn't react well. 

The cinematography, costume, and prosthetics in the movie are very good. The setting itself is beautiful, inspiring feelings of dread, loneliness, and isolation. There are very suspenseful and action-packed scenes where night falls and the creatures try to attack the lighthouse by the dozens and soon, by the hundreds. Though she never speaks a word and only communicates through facial expressions, movement, and sound, Aneris was a very believable 'monster'. What really shines in the movie is the scenes between Friend and Aneris - sympathetic, curious, and caring (to Gruner's jealousy). 

Gruner becomes worse, while Friend is slowly becoming open to a truce that the creatures seem to want. They have stopped attacking after Friend and Gruner's biggest attack on them, and Aneris frees herself from Gruner and returns to her fellow creatures. We see why Gruner has exiled himself at the ends of the Earth, his self-imposed isolation and hatred for the world. Friend is young, seeking solitude but finds a different kind in the island. It leads to a somewhat tragic ending for one of the characters, but overall the story went to a great conclusion.

The Book
I always read the book version of a movie if I like a movie enough. I've written about movie-to-book adaptations I liked such as Rogue One and Labyrinth. As for books turned to movies, I'm not a total purist where I expect that the movie will follow every detail in a book. Books and movies are different storytelling mediums, and some things work better for a movie or a book.

The movie does not follow the book strictly, it had some changes plot-wise and character-wise. I'm not really into the portrayal of the female creature in the book, where the sex was more on the side of bestiality. The movie portrayed her more human-like in her feelings, while in the book she was more beast-like and feral, treated as "less than human" - well, she isn't, but as the only female character (or stand-in for female) there, I just wasn't into it. It is more explicitly stated that Friend is in love with her, but their differences will forever make her elusive and unknowable.

The writing is good, anyway. It is told from the first-person perspective of Friend and it's a good voice to read and follow the story with. The conflict and dialogue between Gruner and Friend are funnier and also covered more than the movie. They also changed the ending of the book in the movie. In the movie, it ended in an open-ended and mysterious way which upset some viewers, but for me, it's a perfect ending, the kind of ending I always look for and like in stories. The book's ending was quite anti-climactic and "meh" - but I'm glad that the movie had its own vision.

They also added some visual elements and details in the movie not present in the book. There was a scene in the film where Friend opens the former weatherman's notebook and there are scientific sketches and references to Charles Darwin. There are circles of stones in the shore, made by the creatures, and a way they use to communicate to Friend. It reminds me of a Joseph Campbell quote that said something like "Draw a circle around a thing, and it becomes sacred."

The closest movie you can compare it to is The Shape of Water, but there's really nothing similar on both movies except for a sea creature and a human "fall in love". Though for me, it's better and it's everything The Shape of Water was not, and what I wanted it to be. I also know it's not everyone's cup of tea based on the reviews I've searched online, but it's just my kind of story.

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