Hey folks, Harry here with a review of a flick that I was supposed to catch when I was in Cannes earlier this year, but due to time spent covering the LORD OF THE RINGS event there, I was never able to make one of the screenings of SNAKESKIN. Why was I so eager to see this flick? Because I find Melanie Lynskey fascinating. Ever since HEAVENLY CREATURES, I've always been more interested in her career than Kate Winslet's (though I've followed hers quite closely as well). Why? Because while Winslet had the more glamorous role, it was Melanie that anchored that film. Made me care. It was an amazing performance. Since then though, Melanie hasn't been given nearly any chances to take the front and center position in films.. but here, this is her movie. And after reading this review, I just wish I was watching it, right now. This sounds like a helluva film...
Last weekend myself and my two compandres, Doctor Jesus and Smug Jonson, had the extreme fortune to stumble upon tickets for the World Premiere (despite it's screening at the Cannes Film Market in May) of the film 'Snakeskin'.
'Snakeskin' is the first feature film from Gillian Ashurst, a writer/director who did "gonzo" (Reference: Hunter S Thompson) style journalism up till 1996 when she created "Confessions of a Latter Day Slut", a short film which won third prize at the Brandywine Film Festival over there in the states. 'Snakeskin' draws inspiration from Gillian's own experiences as a child of the film and television generation. Starring Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures, The Frightners, Coyote Ugly), Boyd Kestner (G.I Jane, The General's Daughter and Hannibal) and Dean O'Gorman (When Love Comes, Young Hercules), it is described by the film makers, in jest, as a tourist brochure for New Zealand.
The film shows a volatile underbelly to New Zealand culture, contrasing with that portrayed in 'Once Were Warriors'. The film gives a glimpse into the NZ skinhead movement (Of which there are apparently only 200 real members in NZ), drug culture (Hallucinogenic mushroom death festivals in the Southern Island) and strange cowboys who powerfuck (Can I use words like that on AICN? :D) mildly innocent girls in public bathrooms...
The story follows Alice (Melanie Lynskey) and Johnny (Dean O'Gorman) on their quest to remove themselves from their mundane surroundings in their extremely generic country town. Alice grew up on television, with idols such as Clint Eastwood, Thelma and Louise, wanting to experience the typical American culture portrayed in the films she has seen. For Alice the line between film and reality is extremely blurred. Johnny is a law student, who is along for the ride because of his adoration of Alice, thus we have the setup for a road film.
Along the way the two pick up a hitchhiker, a misplaced cowboy named Seth (Boyd Kestner) and the pace builds quickly with a little bit of Dukes of Hazard style driving action, where we are then introduced to Seth's pursuers, a trio of skinhead misfits (Speed, Terry and Owen), a Maori drug middleman (Tama) and two wasted pseudo-hippies dealers (Nelson and Daisy).
Essentially up till this point it is a road movie/chase film, with all your regular light hearted gags, cliches and action sequences then it takes a 180 degree turn once various flavours of LSD are consumed and goes in a completely different direction, seemingly drawing on David Lynchesque inspirations, as it realises Seth isn't exactly what he appeared to be, with drugs, theft, murder and quasi-pagan halluciogenic imagery helping to lead up to a shocking conclusion.
'Snakeskin' is a visually beautiful film, rich film stock, lush portraits of South Island imagery and a little bit of CGI. Scenes which particularly stuck out for me were the final action sequence in the abbatoir, when Alice's mind goes sideways on LSD in the sunflower field and Speed's (Oliver Driver) crossdressing scene following his looting of a house.
Melanie Lynskey is at her sultry best in this film and gives an extremely convincing portrayl of her mildly drug addled character Alice. A surprise performance from Oliver Driver as the leader of a skinhead gang, where he goes from being a drug fiend skinhead thief, to a gay crossdressing murderer. Boyd Kestner plays a great twisted cowboy who, in a similair transition to Driver's, becomes a former skinheaded psychopath. Every other member of the cast was brilliant in their roles, especially Paul Glover who played Terry, Speed's reluctant sidekick.
Onto my opinion. What you get in 'Snakeskin' is a completely non-linear plot with no seeming logical conclusion. You go in for a road movie, you come away with a shocking, uniquely foreign story, but if you wanted a road movie, you get the witty retorts, the twisted relationships and the beautiful camera shots, even though it seems the characters are completely out of their heads, but at the same time keeping your feet planted firmly on the ground to look at it from the perspective of a sane outsider.
'Snakeskin' is in a word unique, drawing on inspirations from films such as Thelma and Louise, Spaghetti Westerns and other such genre flicks, then contrasting them with film making techniques and images from David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky.
I never like to give a straight '4/5 stars' type of review, so I won't. I see this as a perfect landmark in New Zealand film, we've had 'horror' (Peter Jackson - Dead Alive), we've had 'shocking' (Lee Tamahori - Once Were Warriors), we've had 'comedy' (Hamish Rothwell - Stickmen), but we never quite got the blend of the 'arthouse' (and I fucking hate saying that) style with the 'narrative' style, which films such as "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" pioneered.
This film may not be many people cup of tea persay, but if you think that after reading my review, regard everything I've said as bullshit. It's good to see New Zealand film flourishing once again with unique stories which the rest of the world can relate to, rather than be alienated by.
Comrade Spides of anticow.darkministry.org