People often ask me what we look for in the films that we curate here at Short of the Week. Well, as the old adage goes, it’s better to show than tell. Jordana Spiro’s Skin is a representative example—a gorgeously shot, expertly performed bite-size narrative that packs an emotional wallop. Granted, it’s not like we’re plucking this film out of internet obscurity: already staff picked on Vimeo, it played all the big festivals (Sundance, SXSW, AFI, Palm Springs). Yet, it’s still a film worth showcasing for its craft alone. This is the kind of short that just sucks you in. It’s not fast paced or action-packed, but it is undeniably engrossing, sumptuously photographed and subtly performed.
Skin is a young-love coming of age story. Now, with that in mind, this isn’t a “cute,” charming, or even happy tale. Rather, it’s actually pretty dark—a simple story of when a young boy’s good intentions go awry. Once the two child characters are established, you can see where the story is heading relatively quickly. But, that doesn’t make the end any less devastating for Ben, our naive taxidermist protagonist. Despite the horror of his actions, the meaning behind them is so sweet and innocent. And, so, his ultimate rejection is that much more devastating.
The highlight here, of course, is the performances. Working with first-time actors, director Jordana Spiro crafts a level of childhood authenticity that just isn’t present in the movies we typically watch. There are no precocious, know-it-all kids here—just an understated reality. Watching these kids feels practically voyeuristic as they float through the film’s beautifully rendered outdoor grunge aesthetic. The result is something out of Flannery O’Connnor’s Southern gothic playbook—a sort of wide-eyed beauty topped with a heaping dollop of the macabre. This is supplemented by the ethereal soundscape, which is comprised of a chorus of ghostly drones and subtle sound design work.
Already an established actress, director Spiro has seamlessly adjusted to the director’s chair (she began Columbia’s MFA program in 2009). So often do movie blogs and industry critics lament that there aren’t enough female directors in the industry. But, really, that’s not true. There are plenty of females in the film game—Hollywood just isn’t giving them a chance to step up. Well, with Skin, Jordana Spiro just stepped up. She has been invited to Sundance’s 2014 January Screenwriter’s Lab, where she’ll be developing a feature script about an 18 year-old juvenile delinquent who is seeking revenge on the man who killed her mother. It sounds like us viewers have a lot to look forward to.