Sometimes the most interesting things to review are the hardest to write about. I generally go with my gut – if I’m talking about it; it’s usually down to the impressions and ideas I’m left with. Despite my background in film theory, I’m not inclined to lean on the technical as many of my peers are. Horses, courses: you know how it is.
This is one reason why Elcid Asaei’s short film Unskin was enticing to me. Symbolism and atmosphere are far more crucial to it than character and narrative. Which was surprising; as the press pack I received billed it as ‘A Christmas Carol meets The Dark Knight in The Twilight Zone.’
I went into Unskin expecting some kind of paranormal thriller. On reflection, I feel that The Dark Knight comparison is appropriate, thanks to the excellent cinematography. As it’s ‘set in an alternative, present London’ it does carry a similarly steely vision of the city; akin to Christopher Nolan’s Gotham.
However Unskin is a pretty surreal and oblique ride. It follows Roger Piper (Roger Carvalho) – an individual going through a somewhat unusual interview. From here he introduces the main body of the film: where we follow his creepy, masked alter-ego “Unskin”. In this form he wanders unnoticed among London’s wasted and lost. Gradually, he draws them together into a darkened space where they perform a ritualistic dance, leading them into a transcendent state.
This set piece is the beating heart of the thing. Everything flows towards it; and while I basically know nothing about interpretive dance, choreographer Konstantina Skalionta’s hypnotic routine remains a cryptic and compelling wonder to me.
The company Unskin has assembled begin as marionettes, who are gradually imbued with life under his mysterious influence. Thematically this is what the film hinges on – people whose lives are complicated by listlessness or moral ambiguity are nurtured by a figure who, (at first glance) would seem to be preying upon them.
This film is open to a lot of interpretation, and it certainly won’t be for everyone. I should note that I have seen a lot of films similar to it in my time – but it feels more earnest and unique somehow.
Unskin represents Asaei’s return after a four year hiatus. He currently has two more shorts in pre-production, and while I’m looking forward to them; I really would love to see a feature from him. We are potentially witnessing the emergence of a visionary creator.