White Skin

May 28th, 2015 by J. Luis Rivera

White Skin   White Skin art dvd front 82x120 romance reviews horror drama Director: Daniel Roby
Writer: Joël Champetier (based on his novel) and Daniel Roby
Release Year: 2004
French Title: ‘La Peau Blanche’
AKA Title: ‘Cannibal’

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When literature student Thierry (Marc Paquet) meets music student Claire (Marianne Farley), they enter a relationship primarily based on physical attraction. While Thierry from his end falls in love with pale-skinned redhead Claire, she herself seems to be attracted to him for different reasons…

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The succubus, a demon that according to medieval legends takes the shape of an attractive woman in order to seduce men, has become part of the collective imagination as a symbol of the union between the erotic and the hazardous. A mythical creature that reminds us how attractive danger can be, as behind the succubus’ supernatural beauty hides a monster that absorbs the life of its lovers, to the point of killing them. Eros and Thanatos completely fused. Like vampires and werewolves, the succubus has had its fair share of interpretations in fiction, and one of the most interesting and unusual amongst them is the one from Canadian author Jöel Champetier‘s novel “La Peau Blanche” (literally, “The White Skin”). Published in 1997, “La Peau Blanche” gave a contemporary spin on the succubus myth, gifted it with dramatic realism and showcasing a fresh story of romance and horror set in the modern era, portraying the cold streets of Montreal. In 2004, director Daniel Roby adapted it to the screen, in what would be his feature length debut.

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Known in America as ‘Cannibal’, ‘La Peau Blanche’ is the story of Thierry (Marc Paquet), a young literature student who feels confused about what will happen with his life after college. His roommate, Henri (Frédéric Pierre), takes him to a bar to celebrate his birthday and hires two hookers to spend the night with. However, things turn violent when one of them, Marquise (Jessica Harris), tries to murder Henri, leaving him badly injured. The friends run away, and end up so scared that they decide to keep their adventure a secret. Days after that night, Thierry meets Claire (Marianne Farley) and falls completely in love with her. Claire is a musician and, while initially reluctant to accept Thierry’s invitations, ends up beginning a relationship with him. Everything seems normal, but Henri begins to notice changes, like Thierry’s slow process of physically decay and the loss of interest in his school work. Thierry ignores his friend’s advice, until he discovers that Claire’s sister is actually Marquise, the prostitute that attacked Henri. And he begins to suspect that his girlfriend’s family hides a dark secret.

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Adapted into a screenplay by author Champetier himself, ‘La Peau Blanche’ shows the succubus not as a supernatural demon, but as a mutation, a new breed of humans. This gives the story an interesting angle, grounded in reality and shaped with a gritty urban style. A fairly ad hoc approach to the problems of modern youth: alienation, confusion, hopelessness, racism and addiction, each one of them a demon far crueler and closer to home than anything from folklore. The titular skin plays an interesting role in the film, since Thierry feels an unexplainable aversion to white skin such as his own, a gesture that his friend Henri (a Black Canadian) considers as some weird kind of racism. Claire, paler than Thierry, manages to get through this aversion of his as they fall in love, though she is also a tad bit racist towards Henri and Thierry’s other friends (whom are all Black Canadians). Thierry’s opinion towards skin color is one of the changes that Henri notices in his friend as Thierry’s addiction to Claire gets stronger. Claire’s love is obviously like a drug to Thierry.

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Just like Champetier‘s novel strips the succubus away from its magical origin and supernatural nature, director Daniel Roby eliminates (at least initially) any clue that could lead to labeling ‘La Peau Blanche’ as a horror film. Instead of using a strong and stylish visual look to create a threatening atmosphere, Roby gives his film the natural look of a social drama. The streets of Montreal are seen through the camera lens of cinematographer Eric Cayle with a simplicity that almost veers toward documentary film making. Or at least at the beginning, because just as Thierry and Henri begin to discover the family secrets hidden by Claire, the film’s atmosphere grows a bit darker, though never breaking the realist tone and the minimalist style that dominates the film. In ‘La Peau Blanche’, director Daniel Roby bets on a style of horror cinema that aims to disturb rather than shock, focusing entirely on his characters and their relationships, as it shies away from an all too visual stylization and special effects.

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And since, as mentioned before, the characters are the core of Daniel Roby‘s film, the cast’s performances become instrumental for the movie’s success. Fortunately, the cast in ‘La Peau Blanche’ does a generally fine job, though not without some problems. In the lead role, Marc Paquet gives an excellent performance as Thierry, the young student and aspiring writer whose life changes the very moment he meets Claire. Paquet manages to give his character a certain depth, which can be felt as his addiction to Claire grows. The same could be said of Frédéric Pierre, who gives life to Henri. The chemistry between both young actors is pretty good, and this gives to their characters’ friendship a greater sense of verisimilitude. Unfortunately, the opposite happens between Paquet and Marianne Farley, whom in the role of Claire fails to be up to the challenge and lacks the spark that her co-stars have. Her flaws as an actress become obvious when Jessica Harris is on screen as her sister, as she delivers the film’s best performance and creates an intense, complex character the minute she appears.

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Something quite good about ‘La Peau Blanche’ is that it never forgets that it’s a love story, though one where love is precisely the source of horror. A story where love leads to destruction. On one side, Thierry can’t get away from his beloved Claire, even when she’s absorbing his life. On the other side, Claire needs to absorb Thierry’s life to survive, but she prefers to die rather than be her beloved’s demise. Love is a fatal affair for both of them. The symbiosis of Eros and Thanatos, with the succubus myth used as basis for an exploration on the destructive side of love. Director Daniel Roby skillfully exploits this aspect of the story, which becomes even more unsettling when it goes hand in hand with the somber realism of his style. Leaving out the more fantastic aspects of the tale, ‘La Peau Blanche’ is ultimately a story about two ordinary kids from Montreal, who love each other with passion, but are unable to avoid their own downfall. The universe in which the film takes place, a world so ordinary that looks like everyday life, enhances the impact of the horror elements in the plot.

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Despite its problems, ‘La Peau Blanche’ remains an innovative riff on the succubus myth (or even vampirism and cannibalism, if you will), offering us a fresh and interesting story. The slow pace and real life feel that Daniel Roby employs in the movie takes it away from the effects and clichés of the more traditional horror genre, and puts it closer to the human drama that independent cinema often takes as a mold. While at times it may sound pretentious or even melodramatic, ‘La Peau Blanche’ doesn’t lose its tone and never fails to deliver in being thrilling update of an ancient mythological concept to current times. The bleak winter setting of Montreal gives ‘La Peau Blanche’ an even fascinating atmosphere, quite appropriate for the horror tragedy it sets out to unfold.

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Rating: White Skin   star romance reviews horror drama White Skin   star romance reviews horror drama White Skin   star romance reviews horror drama White Skin   halfstar romance reviews horror drama White Skin   blankstar romance reviews horror drama

DVD specifics:

White Skin   White Skin art dvd back 84x120 romance reviews horror drama White Skin   Mr Horror 12 romance reviews horror drama Running time: 90 mins
Region: 2
Audio: French, Dolby 5.1 & Dolby Stereo
Subtitles: Dutch
Aspect ratio: 4/3 letterboxed (1.85)
‘Quelques Instants De La Vie D’Une Fraise’ (14 mins), a short film by Daniel Roby
Trailer ‘White Skin’
Trailers Mr. Horror Presents (‘They Are Watching Us’, ‘Zombie Honeymoon’ & ‘Possessed’)
Booklet (4 pages) with liner notes, pictures & terror trivia

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A girl. A package. Two bad guys and two cops on her trail. And one guy who’s the poor schmuck caught in the middle of all this. That’s the premise of Daniel Roby‘s first short film ‘Quelques Instants De La Vie D’Une Fraise’ (2003), served as an extra on the special features menu of Mr. Horror’s DVD release for ‘White Skin‘. Roby gives a fairly fine take on this tired old formula and the result is both amusing, lovely and dramatic. The lack of sufficient budget and means shows a bit in the blandly shot-on-video (digital) cinematography, but nonetheless it’s all well filmed and edited. Moreover, Roby manages to capture that grey feeling of coldness from a city like Montreal drenched in winter time. The whole cast pulls their weight and their characters do stick, especially Rachel Fontaine, cast in the lead as Marie. No doubt it’s the ending that makes the whole short work like it does, and Roby even telegraphed it at the start of the film (although you don’t know what it’s about yet). The composition “Music Is Math” by Boards Of Canada is used as the soundtrack throughout the film. A good choice, since it fits the tone of the film nicely. Worth a watch and a decent bonus feature on this DVD edition. — (V.)

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Trailer on Moviepilot.


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