THE SKIN

Director: Howard Allen
Year: 2011
Country: Antigua & Barbuda

I genuinely didn’t expect to find anything when I searched for films from the tiny twin-island Caribbean nation of Antigua & Barbuda. With a population of 90,000, it’s the second-smallest country I’ve written about so far, after Andorra. It was nice to see, then, that there’s been a husband and wife team of Howard and Mitzi Allen who’ve been directing and producing local films, respectively, since 2001.

It’s refreshing, too, that these films are straightforward, lighthearted genre flicks rather than the serious art-house dramas I’ve been watching this far. The Allens’ debut was a romantic comedy called The Sweetest Mango, followed by the political thriller No Seed, and then a fantasy inspired by Caribbean folklore, Diablesse. 

The film I’ve chosen as my Antiguan entry, however, is their most recent – the 2011 horror film The Skin. The film follows Michael and Lisa, a young couple living in a big, inherited house that they can’t afford. One day, at a photo shoot at the historic Betty’s Hope plantation, Michael unearths a centuries-old urn. According to his unscrupulous friend, it’s worth a fortune, and Michael and Lisa celebrate their newfound wealth. In predictable horror movie fashion, however, the urn is revealed to carry a curse, and pretty soon a vengeful, murderous spirit has been unleashed in Antigua.

The film’s production values are heartbreakingly low. Rather than a priceless, cursed antique, the urn itself looks like something that cost twenty dollars from a nearby craft shop:

skin2
Lisa washes the dirt off a mysterious urn.

What it lacks in budget, however, The Skin more than makes up for in passion and personality. As is probably apparent from the header image for this post, the makeup and design for the evil spirit herself is suitably horrifying. The actors are inexperienced, but throw themselves into their roles commendably nonetheless. Legendary Jamaican actor Carl Bradshaw shows up in the second half, playing a powerful mystic who faces off against the demon in a climax of somewhat adequate special effects.

Nothing in the plot is particularly original, but the Caribbean setting provided enough novelty and vibrancy to keep me engaged. Allen takes advantage of the beautiful scenery he has to work with; the film is full of sun-drenched streets and gorgeous blue oceans:

skin2
The Skin’s primary setting – the scenic English Harbour on Antigua.

The soundtrack also has a strong local flavour, with plenty of calypso and reggae. It’s cheesy, but distinctive and kind of endearing. I had a good time watching The Skin. A lot of low budget horrors think they can get away with just a few cheap jump-scares and some frustratingly dingy cinematography. This one has a local setting and a pure passion that’s about as refreshing to a stale genre as an Antiguan rum cocktail is to a sun-burnt Western tourist. I look forward to watching the rest of the Allens’ filmography when it becomes easily available.

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