[Review] The Skin of the Teeth
I’ve been sitting on this review for longer than a minute. Partly it’s because I’ve been so busy covering festivals and taking on more reviews than I should have; I spread myself too thin. But it’s also because…I don’t quite know what to say about it.
It opens with a man named John (Donal Brophy) arriving at his lavish loft apartment in the city after going for a run and preparing for a hook-up. His house exudes expense. His hook-up date, Josef (Pascal Aquimedes) does not. The difference is striking. To John, this is standard practice and he is comfortable in his own skin. But Josef is jittery and nervous. Awkward small talk ensues until Josef sees a telescope aimed at a neighboring apartment complex and when he looks through it, he sees two men having sex. John wants him to describe it to him. But Josef is weirded out.
“It’s New York. I just assume everyone’s watching,” John tells him. And the man Josef saw having sex has his own telescope trained on John’s apartment. It’s a very Rear Window-feeling moment that establishes a paranoid mood for the first act. Unfortunately, Josef steals a pill from John’s cupboard that turns out to be some experimental drug and while John tells him he’s going to take care of him and help him through it, things get weird, John bashes his own head against a pole, the police barge in and Josef gets arrested.
This first act had its teeth in me the entire time. The awkward first meeting and the inherent danger of meeting a man you don’t know to have sex with is full of excitement and danger. The Hitchcockian references perfectly keeps the opening unbalanced. One moment while the two are dancing, John angles Josef’s body toward the window, knowing that the man he watches watches them. It’s an effective opening.
But then the second act begins.
And here is where the narrative lost me. It focuses on, in the words of first time writer/director Matthew Wollin, a complete fever dream: “A drunken, dangerous night that careens from place to place before depositing you safely back in your bed.” And while this is a perfect description of what follows, it fails to give us anything to really hold onto; to secure ourselves to and to orient our attention. Josef, obviously high on drugs, is brought in for questioning and it becomes obvious that what he’s experiencing is partially—if not fully—in his head as Detectives Locarno (Tom Rizzuto) and Matthews (Chuja Seo) enter the interrogation wearing boxers instead of pants.
The interrogation itself swings wildly from questions about what happened and Josef’s involvement in John’s death to questions like “Are you a top?” and “Do you fuck or get fucked.” When Josef asks for his lawyer, Detective Matthews leaves only to return in a suit and with a cat mask as lawyer Amanda Hastler. Moments like this, it’s easy to see the references; the idea of duplicity inherent in the law field. The ominous cat mask has an almost sneer/smile that immediately brought to mind a Cheshire Cat grin. And when you couple that with the idea that the Detective and the lawyer are the same actor, the metaphor solidifies. They’re all just actors in a play, with the soul of a queer POC at stake.
Or maybe not.
Because, again, we’re dabbling with an unreliable narrator high AF and we don’t know whether what’s happening is real or imagined. Or both. Or neither. The best way I can describe it is if you’ve fallen off a boat and are left alone on the high seas. A storm comes along. And you can only let it carry you along, hoping that it’ll deposit you home. It might sound exciting and weird, from a story perspective. But it mostly just makes you seasick.