The Skin I Live In (Que Piel que Habito)
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It wasn’t that long ago that I was praising Antonio Banderas for his animated feline charm in his Shrek spinoff, Puss in Boots. But if his starring role in a cute family movie has you wondering what happened to the man who once played tough guys like Zorro and El Mariachi, don’t worry. He’s alive and well and starring in Pedro Almodóvar’s disturbing psychological thriller, The Skin I Live In (Que Piel que Habito).

Banderas stars as Dr. Robert Ledgard, a troubled plastic surgeon who’s been secretly researching a kind of thick, synthetic skin in his secluded laboratory. The skin is designed to resist burns—a tribute to Robert’s late wife, who was severely burned in a car accident several years ago.

After his colleagues discover the nature of his research, Robert is ordered to discontinue his work for ethical reasons. Little do they know, however, that he’s taken his research much further than he’s admitted. For years, he’s been working with a human patient named Vera (Elena Anaya), who’s been kept locked away in his home.

After all these years of testing and experiments, Vera begs to be set free—to be allowed to wander around the house and even begin a relationship with the man who created her. But their relationship holds many dark and troubling secrets, and Robert’s maid warns him not to trust her.

The Skin I Live In could very well be the most disturbing film you’ll see all year. It’s an eerie film from the beginning, tackling a topic that pushes ethical boundaries. But the deeper you get into the story—the more you know the characters and their dark and twisted histories—the more horrifying it becomes.

At first, Robert simply seems to be a zealous researcher, passionately (and perhaps obsessively) exploring scientific procedures that could have made a difference for his late wife. Though his methods may be questionable, it appears to be his way of working through is grief. But then, as the story unfolds, it gradually reveals more and more disturbing details—like the suggestion that Robert has made Vera to look like his late wife. Still, that’s just the beginning. As even more of Robert’s story is recounted, it gets darker and more twisted, and you’ll slowly begin to realize just how disturbed the character really is—until, in one gut-wrenching moment (a moment that will vary for each viewer), you’ll be struck by the shocking (and truly appalling) realization of what’s really happening here. And, once you come to that realization, there’s no turning back. No matter how much you’d like to tune out the psychological horrors of it, you won’t be able to block it out.

At the same time, though, no matter how disturbing it may be, The Skin I Live In is also a gripping psychological thriller—an engrossing mystery that will hold you captivated through every troubling minute. Almodóvar’s screenplay (adapted from author Thierry Jonquet’s novel Tarantula) reveals taunting little tidbits of information at just the right times—offering just enough to pull you in and keep you guessing from beginning to horrifying end.

Because of its disturbing subject matter, The Skin I Live In obviously isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s so twisted and troubling that it’s a difficult film to recommend—because I wouldn’t want to be held responsible for subjecting anyone to this horrific experience. Still, if you’re prepared for the violent, upsetting, and truly shocking nature of the film, you’ll nevertheless find yourself absolutely captivated by Almodóvar’s brilliant storytelling.

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