If there are any fallacies within the horror genre that people like to bring up, it’s the never-ending set of plot cliches. Ranging from characters making stupid decisions to knowing who will live or die, there are a fair amount of machinations that are constantly subjected to criticism. However, one thing that should be a point of criticism is its poor to near lack of queer representation. Usually, gay horror characters are either portrayed as psychosexual villains or are just completely nonexistent. The latest psychological thriller The Skin of the Teeth proves to be a rare exception, though.
In addition, The Skin of the Teeth attempts to avoid tired cliches by being placed within two limited settings. The story involves a young black man named Josef (Pascal Arquimedes) who goes on a date with the much older John (Donal Bruphy). As the date takes place in John’s apartment, things go awry once Josef takes a special pill hidden in the apartment and John suddenly dies. After John’s death, Josef ends up being questioned by the police. Once the interrogation takes place, he ends up on what seems like a massive head trip with detectives asking him rather unorthodox questions. Plus, a woman wearing an animal mask makes this hallucination even more crazed.
The second half may be ambitiously enigmatic. Yet, it’s still difficult to figure out the significance behind what Josef is hallucinating. Getting us to decipher the meaning might be the point but what Josef is imagining is so out there that it’s difficult to imagine what it all means. To the film’s credit, it still attempts to dare you to unpack its attempted symbolism. What does the masked woman represent? Why would the detectives ask Josef about his sex life? It's unclear but you might be able to draw your own conclusions.
As for the film’s first half, which takes place entirely in John’s apartment, it works thanks to the development of the two main characters. Also, once their date progresses, it’s unclear whether or not John may have dubious intentions and actor Donal Bruphy does an effortless job at playing into his mystery. Bruphy manages to ooze sensuality and allure while providing enough distance to make it seem like he could be a perpetrator. That being said, Pascal Arquimedes excels as Josef, the likeable audience cipher, and his casting allows the central protagonist to be a queer person of color, making the already onward picture even more progressive.
In closing, despite the second half nearly succumbing to overt ambiguity, The Skin of the Teeth is still an applaudable effort. Because it attempts to do more with minimal settings and puts queer characters at the forefront in a genre where they’re often invisible, the film is a worthy and recommendable watch.
The Skin of the Teeth will be released tomorrow in NYC before coming to VOD/DVD on Tuesday, May 14.