Joshua Brennan, Charlotte Best, Coco Jack Gillies
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…shows a flair for stylish gore on a budget.
When we first meet small time crim Jimmy “Skinny” Skinford (Joshua Brennan), he’s being forced to dig his own grave at gunpoint for transgressing against some vengeful underworld figure. We get the feeling this is not the first time Skinny, a motor-mouthed grifter with a tarnished heart of gold and a spine of wet spaghetti, has done this sort of thing, but it may well be his last – until his spade uncovers the body of a woman, inexplicably alive even though she’s been buried deep. This is Zophia (Charlotte Best), who seemingly cannot be killed. It’s a trait of interest to many sadistic oddballs in the film’s screwball vision of the criminal underworld – and the chase is on.
The key conceit here is that Zophia’s gift can be extended to other people via touch – thus when she’s holding hands with Skinny, bullets bounce off him, and exploding cars may destroy his ensemble, but they leave his skin unscathed. It’s a neat twist on the old zombie/revenant schtick, and leads to fun and gory moments.
Director Nik Kacevski, making his feature debut, shows a flair for stylish gore on a budget. Indeed, some of the FX gags are better than what we’ve seen in films with much larger resource pools to draw on. There’s a throat-slitting scene for the ages, and another where a number of secondary characters come to an explosively messy end. However, Kacevski and his screenwriting partner, Tess Meyer, know their limitations, and the more striking moments rely more on deft writing than a judicious application of red corn syrup – such as when Skinny, suspended upside down over a river where the rising tide will eventually drown him, is informed, “The moon is going to kill you, Skinny!”
Apparently Skinford is set in London – hence Brennan employing an English accent – but really, there’s not much happening that requires such a leap of location. The film takes place in a heightened nighttime milieu populated by eccentric gangsters who dabble in a kind of horror-trope black market where mad scientists operate on kidnapped women. If you can picture a supernatural-tinged riff on John Wick‘s society of urbane assassins, you’re on the right track. The most enjoyable of the film’s suite of villains is Kovak (Coco Jack Gillies), a plum-mouthed schoolgirl crime boss with a horrifying mean streak. We’ve seen this kind of thing before – Kick-Ass comes immediately to mind, but the dissonance such a character embodies is rarely not fun.
If Skinford has a problem it’s in the plotting. The film kind of ambles along from set piece to set piece, and while they’re generally a lot of fun on an individual level, they don’t quite hang together as well as they might. The climax, too, is a bit of a fizzle, in that it relies on a reveal that is only possible if our hero really is as dumb as post. You’ll know it when you see it; immortal Manic Pixie Dead Girls we can deal with, but what we’re being asked to swallow in that crucial scene is a step too far.
Despite that, this is a fun romp through a stylishly and bloodily imagined underworld. Skinford probably won’t draw much of a crowd outside the cult circles it’s made for, but if it fulfills its remit as a calling card, we should be seeing some cool things from Kacevski and co. going forward.