Skin Deep (Aus meiner Haut) is a high concept sci-fi drama that marks the first feature from German writer and director Alex Schaad. The story centres around couple Leyla (Mala Emde) and Tristan (Jonas Dassler) as they take a ferry to an island retreat in the hope that they can revive their relationship from its rough patch. They’re soon paired up with Mo (Dimitrij Schaad) and Fabienne (Maryam Zaree) for a double date and are presented with a strange opportunity; the chance to swap bodies and experience the world in someone else’s shoes. Whilst some participants aren’t entirely sold on the idea, others thrive on the new lease of life the experiment provides.
Making good use of the leafy countryside setting, the film has the eerie folk flavour of Ari Aster’s Midsommar but with the comic eccentricities of The Lobster by Yorgos Lanthimos. The outlandish premise opens a lot of doors for the narrative, with various thematic avenues to explore. Split neatly into chapters which illustrate the multiple iterations on the ritual, the script covers a lot of ground, touching upon depression, sexuality, and the loneliness that comes with ageing. An interesting question is posed around physical and mental scars and the correlation between the two. Can you fully leave trauma behind in a new shell or does it carry over? Despite the sprawling possibilities, the writing becomes frustratingly dull in its developments, and the light and dark tonal elements never quite hang together as they should.
Given the nature of plot, the main cast take on the personas of different people throughout, and this variety of personalities could’ve been a great showcase in range. The performances never quite get past the gimmick, so whilst there’s humour in their immediate switches in energy, there’s a lack of depth to the characters themselves. In the third act, actor Thomas Wodianka has a bigger role to play, and his charismatic presence evokes a positive change in Jonas Dassler’s portrayal of Tristan; this is the most compelling section of the tale.
An admirably ambitious debut from director Schaad, there are moments of greatness within this odd puzzle of identity. However, with such a playful premise to work with, Skin Deep only really scratches the surface of its own potential.