Writer-director Guy Nattiv’s Skin isn’t just a feature-length extension of Nattiv’s Oscar-winning short film, also called Skin; the 2018 short played out like the most socially-conscious episode of The Twilight Zone anyone could imagine, as a backwoods racist received a taste of his own medicine when his entire body was tattooed black (seriously, this is real, and won an Oscar), while the 2019 Skin is more basic. Instead of expanding upon the batshit insanity of his debut, Nattiv opts to tell the true-life tale of Bryon “Babs” Widner, a white supremacist who figures out that being a violent, racist pig isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. His journey of healing is inspired by his love of the sassy and direct Julie Price, as well as her three young, sassy and direct daughters.
As far as stories of redemption go, this one is about as formulaic as you can get — and frankly, the last thing anyone needs in 2019 is a movie that makes us sympathize with a Nazi. What to make of a movie where the death of our hero’s dog is given more weight than that of a hate crime where three Mexican males are brutally murdered? Nattiv does reveal some filmmaking chops when it comes to his stark compositions of a brutal, unforgiving midwestern winter landscape, and is aided greatly by a stacked cast that delivers dynamic and committed performances, especially Jamie Bell (can’t this guy catch a break?) as Widner and Danielle Macdonald (Patti Cake$) as Price. It’s too bad, then, that all of this is ultimately in service of something that aspires to be its generation’s American History X, minus that film’s affected and stylized theatricality. In 2019, we should expect and demand something greater from the social discourse.
Published as part of July 2019’s Before We Vanish.