The Skin of the Teeth

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday May 10, 2019

'The Skin of the Teeth'
'The Skin of the Teeth'  

When Josef (Pascal Arquimedes) shows up at John's (Donal Trophy) flat for a proper date following a hookup, he's met with dinner, wine, and good music — not to mention John himself, who is charming, smooth, and confident. Nervous and inquisitive, Josef peers through the eyepiece of a telescope set up in a window and realizes that John is set up to peer into the apartment of a "tall blond" across the way. At first, Josef is taken aback — but when the tall blond flashes a thumbs-up sign and John explains that the two of them watch each other, the situation shifts from borderline creepy into all-out intriguing.

Josef's tendency to snoop doesn't end there, however; poking around in John's bedroom, he discovers a cache of pills and, on impulse, downs one. When he begins feeling strange later on, John quickly figures out what's happened. "You shouldn't have done that," John chides him, going on to add that the pills are "experimental."

Then things go absolutely bonkers. John ends up dead, the police break down the door, and Josef ends up in an interrogation room with a pair of detectives that seem to have come straight out of a Kafkaesque nightmare.

Soon, Detectives Locarno (Tom Rizzuti) and Matthews (Chuja Seo) have strayed from asking fundamental questions — name, occupation, an account of what happened at John's apartment — to prying queries about Josef's sex life. ("Do you like fucking?" Locarno asks him, in a chipper enough way, "or getting fucked?") When Josef asks for water, the response is for the detectives to haul in some poor soul and douse him; when he asks for a lawyer, the detectives give him to understand that shit's gonna get real if he starts asserting his legal and civil rights.

The situation is already pretty trippy — the cops are wearing boxer shorts, for one thing, rather than proper trousers — but then really strange things begin to take place, including the introduction of a public defender (also played by Seo), an invisible, malignant entity, and a game of Scrabble that seems intended to point out that, for some people, the criminal justice system is a matter of word games and the luck of the draw rather than of guilt or innocence.

Is this all an elaborate prank? (Surely John — who arranges the tall blond's surprising response to Josef watching him through the telescope with a text message — could arrange something of the sort if he felt like it.) Or have the pills Josef took from John's stash plunged him into a detailed, disturbing hallucination? Or do we simply find ourselves two and a half steps deeper into the Trump era, when police interrogations, too, are structured as a gaslighting assault on reality?

Writer-director Matthew Wollin keeps you guessing, and keeps the film at a feverish and itchy pitch of surreal dread. Even if there are answers to be had at the end of this ordeal, are they answers we... or Joseph... can life with or believe in?

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.