Perfect Skin was the second half of the Hard Brexit double bill (the first being the British gangster comedy Polterheist) that opened up the fifth annual Vancouver Badass Film Festival, and is easily one of the best looking and sounding films screened that weekend, though perfect it is not. Playing out like an updated for current times version of Strangeland, Perfect Skin features a stellar performance from Richard Brake (31, Mandy) as tattoo and body modification artist Bob Reid, who has a penchant for sadism and keeping women locked in cages. He quickly becomes interested in a young Polish woman named Katia (Natalia Kostrzewa) who he meets through a mutual acquaintance one night and spends the first portion of the film luring her deeper into his world through the promise of tattoo work before he enacts his actual plan – holding her against her will and using her as the subject of what one could argue is his art project.
Much of the film is composed of scenes of Katia behind bars at first crying out against her captor but later commiserating with him, or at least appearing to. When this isn’t happening she’s unwillingly receiving body modifications such as heavy tattooing or in the more extreme examples, dermal implants. There is also a subplot that run parallel to the story that works to justify Reid’s actions (in his mind) and add some humanity to the character and while it’s effective at points it ends up feeling somewhat burdensome by the end of the film as we never really get to explore his thoughts around his actions. I think if we had explored his motivations more fully this wouldn’t be the case, but as it stands it’s a bit of a perfunctory explanation without a whole lot of depth. The films exploration of Stockholm Syndrome in the second act help to elevate it beyond just a cheap exploitation of “isn’t body modification and heavy tattooing weird?”, though it doesn’t prevent it fully from falling into this trap at points. There are definitely moments throughout the film that I think were intended to play out as scary or weird (mostly centered around suspension) that still come across to myself as purely exploitative of that sub-culture and gives it a bit of a dated feel in that regard, though the images they provide are undeniably striking.
We keep coming back to scenes of Reid practicing his tattoo work on various kinds of heads and while the late game scene does have some shock value it does feel like it pads the film out a bit. I have the same opinion of the constant close ups of tattoo needles hitting skin that were shown ad nauseum. While gorgeously filmed, they feel unnecessary after the first few times we see them and I kept hoping the film would change up the way we were shown this process but that change never really came. This is where more of the exploitation of body mod culture comes into play for me, as I don’t find tattoo work inherently scary, which I feel was the intention with these scenes. I guess for those that do, these are probably hyper effective scenes however. As someone with more than my fair share of hours “under the needle” I’m desensitized to this kind of imagery and I’m more than willing to admit that, but the cut-backs to standard tattooing realities still seem cheap to me after we’ve seen it a few times. Regardless of my personal feelings about body modification, the idea of being taken against your will and having intense amount of tattoo and piercing work done to your body is abjectly horrifying, arguably pushing the film into the rape/revenge sub-genre. Perfect Skin is more than worth your time regardless of the semi-exploitative nature of the body mod culture (exploitation is part of the DNA of horror films after all), if only to see Richard Brake dominate the screen with his sinister but somehow still charming smile. Plus, there’s love for The Prodigy on the soundtrack and you can never go wrong with that.
You can send us beer money on Patreon