*** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
The snowy wilds of the United States are fertile ground for all manner of awful goings-on and this beautiful but bleak setting is where Charlie Steeds’ movie opens, immediately dropping us into the action as a family is visited by a most unwelcome guest. You know, the kind of guest that tries to break down your door and pokes a rifle through the hole they’ve made. They’re not after a cup of sugar, that’s for certain.
Personally, whenever I’m transported to the filmic American wilderness, I’m waiting for dialogue along the lines of “We don’t want no trouble…” and I’m delighted to say that this line is delivered post haste by the father before he goes to pre-opening title heaven. They didn’t want no trouble – double negative or not – but hoooo, they got it.
Switch to Billy Cavanagh (David Lenik), wandering the wilderness with his father when he a) inconveniently loses Pop and b) even more inconveniently manages to get shot. Luckily for him, he’s rescued by the slightly batty but more than capable Agnes (Rowena Bentley) who warns Billy that there are skinless, bloody monsters out there in the woods just waiting for their chance to break into the place and kill them both.
Setting itself up to be a cabin siege movie with the promise of creature clashes aplenty, Winterskin then heads in a slightly different direction, pulling up a chair and tucking into the backbone of the piece, a dramatic two-hander as Billy and Agnes attempt to make the best of their slightly uneasy alliance, sharing some hearty stew and wondering if either is exactly who they appear to be. Then there’s an undeniably entertaining monster attack, but is that all it seems too? And just what the hell is in that stew?
Winterskin features its fair share of wobbly accents as a cast of Brits gamely attempt to tackle a rural drawl. It also stalls the eventual mayhem by deploying dialogue-heavy scenes that arguably go on a smidge too long but let’s cut the production some slack here, it’s a micro-budgeted movie so you’re unlikely to get 90 minutes of uninterrupted monster mayhem. You’re not even going to get that in blockbuster flicks.
What this does have is a fine central performance from Rowena Bentley that keeps the proceedings firmly on the rails even as Agnes threatens to go totally off them. The special effects are pleasingly splashy in an old school way and the story shows a darkly amusing disregard for the lifespan of its characters, especially some of the fringe ones who barely get the opportunity to introduce themselves before they’re sent packing. You could easily count who makes it to the end on the fingers of one hand – if those fingers hadn’t previously been cut off as they are in one gruesome sequence here.
The location work really adds to the chilly, desolate atmosphere and the snowy backdrops are rather lovely to look at, the electronic score is a good ‘un and the payoff is suitably nasty. It also doesn’t look to set up a sequel as its coda, which can’t be said for quite a number of horror flicks these days. Winterskin’s low budget means the monster mash it could have been doesn’t really materialise, but it ends up being a more interesting beast and contains enough highlights along the way to make it an enjoyable watch.