Receiving its World Premiere at FrightFest Perfect Skin is a psychological thriller that journeys into the world of tattoo’s, piercings and extreme body modification a subject that many people are fascinated by and others repelled.
Director and co-writer Kevin Chicken whose first feature this is became intrigued by the subject after watching a body modification series on television where he found some of the images “more startling and unsettling than anything I had seen before and I had to ask myself why.”
As the main character and villain of the piece tattooist Bob, played with aplomb by Richard Brake from Rob Zombies 31, Game of Thrones and Hannibal Rising, says humans are the only species able to modify their appearance however his victim the unemployed and aimless Katia (Natalia Kostrzewa) is not so sure she wants to be altered to the extreme he secretly has in mind.
After her Aussie housemate Lucy (Jo Woodcock from 2009’s Dorian Gray) leaves London and a pile of cash to pay the rent Katia makes some bad decisions and ends up Bob’s captive in a cell under his tattoo studio. Bob’s warped and addled mind sees Katia as his muse and her body as the blank unsullied canvas he will ink his master work on.
Combining elements from American Mary, the fantastic Pet and a ton of torture porn, Perfect Skin takes the quest for art to the extreme with Bob willing to capture, drug and physically and psychologically torment his victim for the sake of leaving a visual legacy behind imbedded into her flesh forever.
Well shot and acted throughout the story moves along reasonably conventionally with Bob spiralling further out of control, Katia trying all she can to escape and Lucy and the police investigating into both of them all ending in a conclusion many will see a mile off.
Two elements which really stand out inn Perfect Skin however are the soundtrack and the sensational tattoo designs. Based around The Prodigy track Invisible Sun from the album The Day Is My Enemy Liam Howlett allowed Dan Bewick to create a soundtrack around the song which works wonderfully well especially during some of the more stylised moments of the movie.
In a film about tattoo’s the art work has to be terrific and in working with world-renowned Mo Coppoletta and the artists at his London studio The Family Business the film makers achieved that with some truly beautiful pieces placed onto Katia’s body. From skulls to snakes the dark symbolism is obvious and the final effect truly striking and captivating.
Where the film falters is in its lack of clear message and motivation for the central pair. Bob is at times painted as a sympathetic lost soul and at others a perverted psycho but the film fails to pick which one it wants him to be making for a confused character we can neither love or hate. Katia too seems at times to embrace her movement from conventional beauty to something more unique and alien but if it’s all just a pacifying act driven by her fear and desperation, we can never really tell.
Add to this personally for me the main concept of the movie raised several issues which remained unanswered. Knowing very little on the subject matter within Perfect Skin I was unsure if I was meant to view tattoo’s and body modifications as disgusting and horrifying or powerful and transformative seeing as they seemed to be depicted as both at different times throughout the movie.
Bob seems to spout inspiring and interesting philosophical views on the subject matter as mentioned before but he also keeps a woman caged and forces her against her will to be tattooed so should we really listen to him? If the film is about rejecting conventional ideas of beauty and rebelling against the conservative norm doesn’t it seem wrong that a man has to educate a woman under duress on the subject through mental and bodily abuse? Many people would and have happily consented to the process Katia experiences and if she does in fact embrace her new identity again does this justify his torture? Are are supposed to find the art work inspiring and ignore how it came to be made because Katia will most definitely never forget?
Sadly I found none of my questions answered within Perfect Skin and thus at the end was left wishing the film had more clearly defined itself as either an all-out horror where Bob’s brutal artistic ambition was shown as nothing but destructive and perverse or a more insightful drama about consenting adults experimenting and transforming within the world of body modification.
All this said many people will enjoy this solid debut without the issues I had especially those with an interest in the subject. On a level all good art is meant to challenge you and force you to think and feel and Perfect Skin definitely did that for me.