Skin: Film Review

Jamie Bell is quite the chameleon. I would never have expected the child star from Billy Elliot to be playing a white supremacist, but somehow he convincingly pulls it off in Skin.

He portrays the real-life Bryon “Babs” Widner, who was recruited by the Vinlanders Social Club – led by Vera Farmiga and Bill Camp – as a wayward teenager and is now one of their leading members. However, after meeting Julie (Danielle Macdonald), he decides he wants out of that life – but the club isn’t going to let him just walk out the door.

Bell looks completely unrecognisable in this role, as he is covered – and I really mean covered – in racist tattoos all over his face and body, he has pointier teeth and he has developed a much stronger and more intimidating gait. His performance is totally transformative and believable, you actually forget it’s him.

Farmiga was extremely unnerving and creepy. She’s quiet and seems quite caring but you know she’s recruiting and grooming these youngsters to help achieve her white supremacy dream. It was weird to see Camp in such a different, evil role and he looked so odd with a massive beard and glasses. Macdonald does a decent job but she spends most of her screen time shouting at Widner or her three kids, who she hardly ever puts first. I would have liked less of that.

What was refreshing about Skin is that it doesn’t focus on their white supremacy rhetoric much and besides a couple of brief incidents illustrating what the club does, the story focuses on Widner figuring out who he wants to be. His decision has big ramifications – he can’t simply leave the club without a fight. It was also enlightening for me because I didn’t know about these clubs and how they recruited members – it made me wonder if he was genuinely racist or had been brainwashed that way.

Skin was a gritty character study about a white supremacist trying to turn his life around for love. I didn’t care for the domestic drama between Bryon and Julie and would have preferred more insight into Widner’s mind, but I was fascinated by the flash-forwards to his painful laser tattoo removal and his attempts to leave.

Watch Skin for a different take on the white supremacy story and a staggering performance by Bell.

In very limited cinemas from 27th September, followed by a digital release on 30th September and DVD release on 7th October

Rating: 3/5

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