Not every film is lucky enough to get a wide release as quite a few to tend to hover under the radar getting barely any release at all. Opening today at the Royal here in downtown Toronto, "Comforting Skin" is a psychological horror that looks at our deep seeded need to be loved at any cost.
Written and Directed by Derek Franson
Awkward, average looking, and lacking any real self-confidence, we meet Koffie (Bidwell) who has always felt she neither fits in nor stands out. These insecurities caused her to move around in dangerous circles, exhibit destructive impulses, and lie uncontrollably. However now she thinks she has turned the page. The only constant in this time of change is Koffie’s childhood best friend Nathan (Runyan), a sociophobe who has been her conscience in times of need. In return, Koffie has always acted as his lifeline to the outside world, doing his errands, and even taken it upon herself to cure his phobia of people by slowly re-introducing him into society. Indeed her life is full of promise. But as her need for a relationship that is both emotional and sexual draws her into a surreal relationship with a tattoo on her skin that she has willed to life. As this relationship gets more and more obsessive, it also gets more and more obsessive.
Debut features are usually somewhat problematic and while this first outing from writer/director Derek Franson isn't without its problems, it's also a debut with a hell of a lot of promise. With a great sense of light, dark and color, so much of this film effectively plays out in the dark shadows of a club, the under lit city streets or the muted grey's of these characters apartment. It all sets the mood very well and while the narrative takes a little too long to get going and goes to a couple of unnecessary places once it along the way, it successfully hooks you as we going down the spiral of despair and loneliness take a fresh and innovative twist on how many of us have felt at one time or another in our lives. The production design was solid and there was never a moment when we felt as if we were watching an independently funded films, it creates a very specific dark world and it takes us inside, diving inside head first thanks to a very solid performance from a first time lead actress.
With only a handful of credits under belt, Victoria Bidwell manages to turn a very visceral and understatedly wicked performance as Koffie. Throughout the entire film we are never quite sure about her as her mental health background is always alluded to but never fully explained and she keeps us guessing as to if she is actually crazy or is she just acting crazy to get attention, and by the end at the bottom of her despair even the audience isn't entirely sure. It was a strong, and understated performance and hopefully we get to see more of Victoria Bidwell in the years to come. Tygh Runyan is becoming a very familiar face in some Canadian indie film circles and is getting more and more recognizable thanks to some quality turns in films like "Road to Nowhere" and parts on "Stargate Universe". He plays the calm and quiet yin, to Koffie's yang but they play off of each other very, very well.
If you're looking for something a little off the beaten track and a little freaky that still lets you support an up and coming filmmaker with his feature debut then "Comforting Skin" just might be the thing for you.
3 out of 5 stars.
"Comforting Skin" is now playing at the Royal Cinema here in downtown Toronto for two shows only tonight at 9:30 PM or tomorrow at 7 PM so catch it while you can.