‘THE SKIN’ Written and Directed by Howard Allen
This is HAMA’s fourth feature film and the first time that they have worked with a director of photography, an important note as it shows that the husband and wife duo are willing to trust their vision with another, whilst still sticking to the story they wish to tell.
It is also their coming of age Homage to a genre not often made in the region – a supernatural thriller based on Caribbean, European folklore.
The story centers on a couple Lisa and Michael who are experiencing financial difficulties until they discover a valuable vase on an old sugar estate. They are told of the vases history and opt to sell the item rather than hold onto it to a rather dodgy antique expert Felix, who later negotiates to sell it to a collector for more than ten times the price he paid the couple. Whilst money exchanges hands the spirit or the soucouyant that owns the vase returns to earth to claim both the vase and the blood of new born babies – this leads to two murders, the appearance of a crooked, lecherous cop and the need to utilize the service of a tattoo artist and a man with ‘Vision’. Are you still with me?
‘The Skin’ is based on two questions – ‘what would you do?’ and ‘what do you believe?’ – If you are under 25 your knowledge of Caribbean folklore will be a lot weaker than your understanding of vampires both good and bad. If you are over 25 you will have vivid memories of the stories your granny or parents told you to ensure that you said your prayers before jumping into bed.
The pace of the film depends very much on the principle actors, three veterans – Carl Bradshaw, Jeff Stewart and Peter Williams and they deliver – Stewart in particular as Felix, the ex-pat antiques’ dealer with an eye for young ladies and a bon vivant approach steals the show with his very assured performance and quirky comic timing.
Both Bradshaw and Williams make the most of their appearances – both comic and intense and that’s just it ‘The Skin’ is a series of set pieces that are held together by an excellent soundtrack featuring original music and songs by Antiguan artists Promise, Charmaine Bailey and Kaiso Joe.
The veterans’ performances are equally matched by new comers Aisha Ralph and Brent Simon (Lisa and Michael) – their chemistry is believable and their acting natural. They are also well supported by Kobla ‘Promise’ Mentor, playing a tattoo artist with a strong belief in the spirit world and a mother who could be best described as a mystic or obeah woman.
The other star of this movie is Antigua and Barbuda – the twin island state films beautifully and can be as visually pleasing and scary as she needs to be.
The Soucouyant is not as scary as the vampires or ghouls in American block blusters; however, it is most effective during a dream sequence and the ‘good v evil’ scene where the good definitely outsmarts the evil.
‘The Skin’ is full of symbolism and little touches that can be missed on first viewing such as the French connection between the vase‘s original owner and the fact that ‘soucouyants’, vampires are European folklore imported by the planters. Others are not so subtle, yet very effective, such as the scene where Felix sings along to the old kaiso song ‘back to back’, which the audience realizes is all about his own demise. All in all it’s a good story with some strong performances.
If there is a weakness it is the feeling that the film could be edited tighter as some scenes could have been shorter or omitted as the film feels little longer than it needs to be. However, this aside the public’s reaction to the film is very positive and proves, yet again, that Caribbean audiences want to see their stories on the big screen.
Brenda Lee Browne has worked as a journalist, feature writer in the UK and Antigua & Barbuda, as well as a communication specialist and PR consultant for local, regional and international entities including The Body Shop; British Airways, the ICC Cricket World Cup West Indies (2007) and HAMA. Her work has appeared in ‘Business Focus’, ‘Paradise’ magazine and local newspapers and on-line media outlets.
Browne has an MA in Writing from Sheffield Hallam University and received the East Midlands Arts New Writers Award in 2001. She has taught creative writing workshops at the Department of Culture; HM Prison (Antigua) and at the Antigua and Barbuda Literary Arts Festival.
Her other passion is Cricket and has travelled the region working with the West Indies Cricket Board and recently returned from India where she worked at the IPL. She is also one of the founders of the Kenny Benjamin Youth Festival.