If you’re familiar with Pedro Almodovar’s previous movies, you shouldn’t be surprised when it turns out his latest, called “The Skin I Live In,” actually is about someone wearing new skin. Was it “Talk to Her” that had a fantasy sequence where someone crawls out of a wardrobe-sized vagina? Almodovar’s interest in anatomy is, shall we say, well-documented.
The new film, which Almodovar adapted from a novel by Thierry Jonquet, is essentially a horror movie, though it doesn’t always feel like one. It’s also a weird, campy soap opera, and what that has to do with the horror side of it is anybody’s guess. At the center is Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), a brilliant plastic surgeon who has a private facility at his home where a beautiful patient named Vera (Elena Anaya) is testing the effectiveness of a synthetic skin Robert has designed. Vera is kept in a sterile environment, her food brought to her by Robert’s devoted old housekeeper, Marilia (Marisa Paredes).
I shouldn’t be allowed to tell you more about the story than that. All we know at first is that something creepy and medical is going on; from there Almodovar gradually reveals more about Robert’s past tragedies, which fuel his current obsessions, and about how Vera came to be here with him now. There are flashbacks to several years earlier, to Robert’s daughter (Blanca Suarez) meeting a young man, Vicente (Jan Cornet), who works at his mother’s dress shop. There is some business with Marilia’s criminal son, Zeca (Roberto Alamo)e. It isn’t until the last couple reels that we fully understand what the movie’s about, and the horror dawns on us in an effectively unsettling manner.
In the meantime, however, we get a buffet of various kinds of madness, both ghastly and amusing, as Almodovar indulges his gleefully bizarre sensibilities. The only consistency in the tone is that it’s inconsistent — a telenovela one minute, a mad-scientist creeper the next, a suspenseful “Vertigo” homage after that. This zigzagging is intentional, no doubt, but it may be more disconcerting and off-putting than Almodovar meant it to be. The frequent disorientation makes things drag; it’s hard to get a sense of the movie’s pace when you’re unsure how all these miscellaneous pieces fit together, or even whether they do.
C+ (1 hr., 57 min.; Spanish with subtitles; )