Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Stepping out
"Tim Peter Kuhn's cinematography and Franco Tortora and Tom Batoy’s dramatic score combine to create a sense of disorientation, of psychological disintegration."

Illness always seems more unfair when it happens to the young. One might expect an older women to suffer from dry skin, but Kira (Rebecca Forsythe) looks barely more than 25, dresses elegantly, and has always valued beauty (or, at any rate, despised those who lack it). Now her skin is so dry that it's flaking off, cracking, peeling off, revealing raw flesh underneath.

In a panic, Kira seeks out a specialist. Enter Barbara Crampton's polite yet curiously judgemental Dr Crober, who orders a succession of tests and asks worryingly odd questions. Doesn't Kira remember meeting her before? No. In fact, it gradually dawns on Kira that she's struggling to remember all sorts of things.

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What is it about individual human beings that distinguishes them from others? At risk of losing both her memory and her skin, Kira also seems to have difficulty clinging to her personal identity. She experiences events in perplexing ways and even begins to hallucinate. Tim Peter Kuhn's cinematography and Franco Tortora and Tom Batoy’s dramatic score combine to create a sense of disorientation, of psychological disintegration; yet when the break happens it's so fast that it still comes as a shock. Having discovered that strips of other people's skin can merge swiftly into the gaps in her own, stopping her pain and restoring her beauty, Kira wastes no time in finding a woman to make into an unwilling donor. When the new skin dries out just like the old skin, she starts to make a habit of it.

Layers of gore and psychological horror flesh out a plot that is essentially science fiction - near-future stuff, seen from a very dark perspective. It's lusciously framed and there's some spectacular set deign, with Crober's laboratory blending Cronenberg influences with Tron. Vibrant colours echo the high drama of the narrative and Forsythe does an impressive job, especially for one so young, of holding the viewer's attention at the centre of it all.

There are weak points. As the neighbour who embarks on an affair with Kira, Lucie Aron provides some much-needed warmth but ends up being used too conventionally in girlfriend who might see too much mode, a disappointing note in an otherwise inventive film. The special effects are not always very successful and, for all their nastiness, never quite capture the suffering caused by similar symptoms in real life. Nevertheless, the core of the film is strong, and details around the interrelation of age, beauty, pain, identity and social status are well observed. This is a film made with real commitment and was an impressive pick for the 2017 Fantasia film festival. It's more than just skin deep.

Reviewed on: 17 Jul 2017
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Afflicted with a dermatological disease that causes her skin to crumble away, Kira discovers that she can replace that skin with the skin of other women.

Director: Norbert Keil

Writer: Norbert Keil, Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris

Starring: Barbara Crampton, Rebecca Forsythe, Lucie Aron, Sean Knopp, Adnan Maral

Year: 2017

Runtime: 101 minutes

Country: US

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