Like the birthday kid at a swimming party, you’re thrown in in the deep end of this head-scratching psychological thriller and left to flail about helplessly for about the first half hour before someone throws you a flotation device, but even then, it’s maybe the equivalent of three ping-pong balls rather than a lifejacket. What this does have at the start is a brylcreemed Robert Ledgard (Antionio Banderas), craniofacial plastic surgeon extraordinaire who lives in a sprawling Spanish estate; Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya), a beautiful woman who wanders around a sparsely furnished room wearing nothing but a body stocking; and a house full of servants who seem totally at ease with the fact that Robert has a woman locked in a room in his house. Why she is there, why Robert has video cameras in her room that feed into his wall-sized television and why Marilia (Marisa Paredes)—his longtime housekeeper—is so complicit in the captivity so badly is the soul of the story, told back and forth in time from the death of Robert’s wife up to the present (actually the future, as it’s set in February 2012.)
I wouldn’t dare spoiler anything for you, but be assured the horror of the story—and you will be horrified—has little to do with the new, resilient skin that Robert is experimenting with and more to do with the horrendous acts people commit. If you aren’t in a position to deal with sexual assault on film, stay far away from this one. Not only are the scenes convincingly awful, as the experience must be, but the confusion surrounding them can make for an uncomfortable viewing. I’m loathe to say more and ruin the movie, which held countless surprises, but there you have it. It touches on a few sex/gender issues as well, which Pedro Almodovar has done in the past. Having a director out there game to try some new stuff is great, but I guess I feel a little out of my depth in commenting too much on it.
So, onto things I know! I know I generally love Antonio but found him completely alarming in this film; I know that the acting was amazing from everyone. Almodovar is adept at getting nuances out of actors who get offered Western roles that aren’t quite as meaty (Penelope Cruz, for example, is excellent in Volver but more popular in the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, where everyone is required to be melodramatic) so seeing Banderas in a role where he wasn’t likeable was hard—because usually he’s so lovely in them—but also impressive. The choppy narrative style was an interesting route to take and, luckily, fell on the side of compelling instead of annoying (though I probably annoyed everyone around me by whispering my confusion at Chris every five minutes.) It was a very narrowly landscaped film—we get a feel for Ledgard’s home but not the environment around it, and only a few other settings, which means it doesn’t feel particularly Spanish (apart from the fact that it’s in Spanish and subtitled) and instead feels appropriately claustrophobic.
It’s a confronting, engaging, revenge-driven flick filled with relationships you’re continually unsure of. Who do you hate? Where does the right of revenge end? Why do people ask rhetorical questions anyway? Well, perhaps I’ll stop and just rate it something high like eight out of ten tiger stripes.
As requested by the lovely Afsana