Tuesday, June 10, 2008

La Peau Blanche/White Skin (Canada, 2004)

(Spoilers everywhere.) At one point in White Skin (also briefly known as Cannibal), first-time director Daniel Roby alludes to an obvious role model by showing some of his characters watching David Cronenberg’s Rabid (1977/Trailer) on TV. Rabid is, of course, a Canadian venereal horror classic and both the film and its director are fine paragons to emulate or honor, but as adroit as Roby's direction is, White Skin comes nowhere close to Croneberg’s classic in any way. Rabid was and is a highly interesting and truly depressing shocker that inter-mingles sex and horror and proudly stood to its exploitation roots by casting a then-famous porno star (Marylyn Chambers) in the lead; White Skin might also mix sex with horror and be a slight downer, but in its endeavor to be more arthouse than grindhouse it never becomes either. Neither truly shocking nor as interesting as Cronenberg’s second feature length film, in the end White Skin — or rather, La Peau Blanche (the original French-language title) — remains dissatisfying and almost annoying. Slow enough to be a television movie of the week, White Skin might look good but it crawls leadenly to an in-parts predictable and in-parts unbelievable ending that seems much more a whimper than a punch... and a variety of incompletely though-out aspects, half-baked social commentary on race, and uninteresting characterization don’t help any. Once again, a film’s trailer is indefinitely much more alluring and interesting than the film itself.
Based on the novel by Joël Champetier, La Peau Blanche begins on the birthday of Thierry Richard (Marc Paquet), a young country boy who has come to the big city of Montreal on a scholarship. To celebrate, his Afro-Canadian bud and roommate Henri Dieudonné (Frédéric Pierre) invites him to a hooker. Later at the hotel the two youths take their respective ladies of the night into separate rooms, but before Thierry can get past his performance problems he hears his friend’s desperate shouts for help coming from the room next door. Rushing to Henri's room, he finds his pal with a half-slit neck struggling with the knife-wielding whore who then breaks away and escapes through the window into the night. Later, to hide the fact that they had been with hookers, Henri explains his throat injury to a skinhead knife attack, which instigates an impromptu reunion of his extended and enraged circle of family and friends. (Where are all these people at the end of the film after both he and his Aunt Marie-Pierre (Joujou Turenne) die? In fact, how does the apartment he and Thierry share get cleaned after the bloodbath that occurs there? Three bodies and a lot of blood and brains obviously simply dissolve into thin air.) Soon thereafter Thierry — who at one point explains why he finds redheads repulsive — falls obsessively in love with a redhead music student named Claire Lefrançois (Marianne Farley) with whom he has wild sex but who claims not to want to have a relationship because she’s deathly ill with “cancer.” Henri eventually sees her licking out a condom and figures out with the help of the Internet that she is a succubus, but of course Thierry refuses to believe him. (Why she just doesn’t blow Henri when she’s hungry is a mystery. Aside from the fact that no man says no to a woman that swallows, the liquid protein wouldn’t have that funny rubber taste either. In regard to what a succubus actually is, the filmmakers seem rather confused: a succubus is a female demon or specter which, like its male counterpart the incubus, drains the life forces of its victims through sex, not by drinking its victim’s blood or eating its flesh – or ejaculate, for that matter.) In truth, however, Claire is not dying of cancer, but of malnutrition: she and her ilk need the blood and flesh of human males to survive, but as she no longer wants to actively partake in her required food chain and is thus not eating as she should, she is pining slowly away. (One can thus assume that Claire’s racist dislike of black people has less to do with simple racism than that they are a greater temptation because, as it is revealed at one point, they are the most “undiluted” of the races. But then, if she and her siblings are indeed the next step up on the evolutionary ladder — as one of her sisters eventually claims — perhaps she simply dislikes those at the bottom. The race aspect of the film, for all the lauds given, often seems oddly half-baked.) The shit starts hitting the fan when Thierry visits Claire in hospital, meets the rest of her family and realizes that one of her sisters is the very lady-of-the-night that tried to kill Henri. Not only that, but she makes it plain to him that she plans to finish the job. Feeling the heat, Henri buys himself a gun for protection, but it doesn’t help much: he soon follows Claire’s doctor into her mother’s deep freezer. (Odd how when Henri buys the gun he pointedly puts on gloves so as not to leave fingerprints, but the rest of the time he simply has it in his bare hands.) And Claire, for some inexplicable reason, gets pissed at her sister for killing him and blows her brains out. (Feel free to say “Huh?” here, ‘cause me and my buds sure did when we were watching the film... although two out four of us did predict the final “surprise” ending that closes the film correctly.)
That the film is well shot and edited is without a doubt, but all the good press it gets is nonetheless not very understandable. Illogical, slow and dull, White Skin meanders from horror to social commentary to teenager-in-love to suspense and to the corner and back without ever feeling like it really knows whither it wants to go to. In the end, all the good press and word-of-mouth gives one the feeling that one should like the film, but the film itself gives one the feeling that there ain’t much there to like.
One should really re-watch Rabid instead.

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