Published Feb 26, 2013Vancouver 20-something urbanite Koffie (Victoria Bidewell) lives her life like an abundance of similarly socially motivated children of the middle-class: she performs the image of success and happiness in an effort to attract, and garner validation from, others. But, having aged past university age and not being endowed with disproportionately large breasts, the attention gained at insipid, sweaty clubs is irregular and fleeting, leaving her crying in the bathroom alone at the end of the night, focusing on minor imperfections in her skin.
In such, the sheer premise of Derek Franson's low budget psychosexual thriller is counter-feminist or post-feminist, featuring an insecure protagonist unable to define an inner-identity. She's developed an ersatz heterosexual companionship with her sociophobic—and oft-amusing—roommate Nathan (Tygh Runyan) that perpetually reassures and disappoints, with him only able to offer emotional—albeit judgmental—support, but never physical.
When Koffie decides to get a tattoo in an effort to project a bad girl confidence and feign an otherwise non-existent, or at least off-putting, personality, the psychological and occasionally amusing sexual component comes into play. Initially given newfound confidence through external modification, she retreats into the same pattern of externalized social performance at clubs, bonding with her aging club girl neighbour Synthia (Jane Sowerby).
Of course, this temporary mask eventually fades, leaving her to retreat into her own insecurities and apparent schizophrenia, which manifests through the anthropomorphizing of her tattoo. As it speaks to her, pointing out the raging insincerity of her lifestyle and verbalizing the cycles of self-imposed emotional abuse she subjects herself to, it shifts all over her body, forcing her to take pleasure in her own sexuality—rather vividly.
This handling of mental illness and female sexuality is ultimately quite offensive if interpreted literally, but the over-the-top melodramatic handling of it all makes it difficult to categorize it all as sheer sensationalist objectivity. Bidewell gives her all in an oft-fully nude performance, screeching in public spaces and engaging in graphic sex with her tattoo, which suggests a sort of intended empowerment through personal awareness and identity removed from the rigid lexicon of social expectation.
None of it is communicated particularly well and many of the extreme moments of Comforting Skin are almost laughable, but there is a crisp, professional eye looming over it all that suggests the flaws merely come from lack of experience in constructing a narrative.
Many of the ideas here are quite interesting and the aesthetic and production value are quite impressive considering the budget, but this works more as a talent reel for a gifted actress and a director that might fare better with some else's script. (Raven Banner)