15th May2019

‘Winterskin’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: David Lenik, Rowena Bentley, Barrington De La Roche, Peter Cosgrove, Kate Davies-Speak, John Lomas, Harrison Nash, Dylan Curtis | Written and Directed by Charlie Steeds


I absolutely adored writer/director Charlie Steeds Cannibal Farm, a film that has seemingly been held to ransom by its UK distributors, with a release – under the title Escape From Cannibal Farm – promised for what seems like an eternity. In the meantime Steeds has filmed three more films, of which Winterskin is the last to be made and the latest to be released (though many are, like myself, hanging on word of an official release for Steeds’ The Barge People).

Essentially a two-character production, Winterskin takes a leaf out of Stephen King’s Misery in presenting a protagonist seemingly trapped by a cray woman, in this case in a remote cabin in the middle of snowy nowhere. Our protagonist, Billy Cavanagh, is “accidentally” gunned down in said snowy wilderness and desperate for shelter he’s taken in by kooky old lady Agnes, unaware that her isolated log cabin is being stalked by a bloodthirsty skinless creature hellbent on getting inside. Though what’s already inside may be even more frightening.

If there’s one thing that marks out Charlie Steeds genre efforts, it how good they look. No matter the budget Steeds and co. manage to make their film look the proverbial million dollars and Winterskin is no different. In fact if it wasn’t mentioned in coverage oft he film prior to its release I doubt anyone would know that this film was actually shot in Guildford, with the snow-covered exteriors shot on the cheap in Norway! But then the confines of the cabin here don’t even look like a set, this looks for all intents and purposes, like an actual cabin in the actual American wilderness – its a credit to all involved from the set designers to the cinematographer, to Steeds himself, that Winterskin‘s mise-en-scene is so convincing; adding an extra depth to the already compelling story.

And the story is compelling thanks to the two leads Rowena Bentley and David Lenik, whose convincing portrayals of mad woman and captor respectively, are literally key to why this film works. Yes, the script (also from director Charlie Steeds) has some aspect of intrigue to it but its the dialogue of the main characters and how the performers deliver said dialogue that makes Winterskin such a great watch. Bentley is a particular joy, chewing up her scenes and dialogue and delivering the kind of over the top tour-de-force characterisation that can only really happen in horror. Her character Agnes is akin to the likes of Kathy Bates’ Annie Wilkes, any of the insane Sawyer clan from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the best of Glenn Close’s maddening psychopath Alex in Fatal Attraction – really ranking up the with the greatest cinematic psychopaths.

And Agnes HAS to be an over-the-top psychopath, as there’s a real sense of Grand-Guignol to Winterskin that really comes out the further into this twisted tale we go. Steeds’ film is packed with buckets of blood and grue, gloriously maniacal performances (of which actress and co-lead Rowena Bentley is THE queen of) and a soundtrack that goes from Carpenter-esque synth to overwrought giallo-inspired insanity. It all builds into a tremendously, gloriously over the top conclusion, punctuated by a film ending one-liner that feels plucked from the very mouth of Bruce Campbell! In short, I absolutely LOVED it!

**** 4/5

Winterskin will be available on digital, in the US, from May 21st, courtesy of High Octane Pictures.


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