EIFF 2019: Skin

Director: Guy Nattiv
Starring: Jamie Bell, Danielle Macdonald, Daniel Henshall, Bill Camp

Based on a true story, Skin follows the dramatic early life of Bryon Widner who was adopted from homelessness on the streets as a young boy by a group of 'Viking' Neo-Nazis.  Nurtured by his 'father' Fred 'Hammer' Krager (a sinister portrayal by Bill Camp) he undergoes indoctrination into the world of fascism, as portrayed by the shocking symbolic tattoos covering his entire face.

At first it's all too easy to write off yet another skinhead on our screen, without either a conscience or an ounce of empathy. However, it's in the careful performance from the older Bryon (Jamie Bell), where we understand quite early on in the film that he is making tentative steps to resist the behaviour of his fascist family and look for a way out. Doubts about their motivations come to a head with a violent clash with protesters - with Bryon opening a wound that is not easily healed. It isn't until he comes across Jules (Danielle Macdonald) and her three daughters that he finally sees another way of life open to him.

The struggle is in leaving the old life behind, especially when it doesn't want you to leave it. There is a stand-out scene where his family turn up in his new home, waiting for him in the living room - they are physically and symbolically inhabiting a space in his life that they will fight to keep. Both Bryon and the audience feel this claustrophobia acutely.

Alongside the film's narrative, there are painfully visceral moments documenting Bryon's laser tattoo removal from his face and body. Punctuating the story, we see him writhe under the pin-sharp lasers, offering him a freedom from the racist imagery he thought would imprison him forever.

Skin is a nervy, well-thought out film with terrifying and unsettling moments. It has enough light, though, to show that hope can persevere in the darkest of moments. Bell and Macdonald go all-in, taking on the world and their roles with gusto and proving to be some of the most sensitive and versatile actors of the moment.