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Film Review: SKIN DEEP: Alex Schaad’s Obscure New Body Switch Drama Will Blow Your Mind [Fantasia 2023]

Mala Emde Jonas Dassler Skin Deep

Skin Deep Review

Skin Deep (2022) Film Review from the 27th Annual Fantasia Film Festival, a movie directed by Alex Schaad, written by Dimitrij Schaad and Alex Schaad and starring Mala Emde, Jonas Dassler, Dimitrij Schaad, Maryam Zaree, Edgar Selge, Adam Bousdoukos and Alex Schaad.

Skin Deep, directed by Alex Schaad, deserves some kind of award for its freedom of expression. It’s a German science-fiction drama about a couple who travel to a remote island to participate in body switching activity which is like liberation from one’s own self. Mala Emde stars as Leyla and Jonas Dassler is Tristan. It seems this pair of lovers is escaping the mundane by visiting a place in which wondrous activities take place. While they are, indeed, extraordinary, they are also sometimes mind-baffling. This movie occasionally feels like Midsommar meets The Tree of Life at times. Those are two great films so most audience members won’t be complaining too much.

Leyla and Tristan are paired with a couple named Mo (Dmitrij Schaad) and Fabienne (Maryam Zaree). A body one inhabits sort of dictates the life that a person leads as the movie powerfully suggests through its interactions between characters. Mo is not the most sensitive guy it turns out. He’s a regular at body switching but Leyla and Tristan are new at it. As Leyla becomes Fabienne, she finds a very liberating sense of self as she lives in this other woman’s body. Fabienne, it seems, is a more outgoing person than Leyla. Through this outer body experience, Leyla will learn a bit more about herself and her desires in the process.

This movie flashes character names when two people swap bodies so that we know which characters will be the focus of the film at that particular time. As we watch our characters go through their motions, we sense that something could be eventually go wrong because this freedom of expression is, obviously, not normal, however liberating to the characters in the film it may be. This picture also shows how people can find themselves in bodies of opposite genders. This idea is quite compelling and helps the movie make some valid points about the power of exploration but the movie also delicately deals with the consequences of such exploration.

Mo and Tristan make good opposites and their characters are juxtaposed in a very interesting way which will help the viewer delve into the minds of these two characters, in particular. Also of note is the way people’s mindsets are portrayed. Characters’ whole outlook on life can change by being in another person’s skin. By escaping one’s own physical confinements, a whole new world opens up. But, is it a safe world? The answer there is very arbitrary.

At the heart of the movie is Tristan and Leyla’s relationship. How far they go can be dangerous for them, though, and the movie begs the question: “Is pushing the envelope in terms of body swapping actually a good thing?” This movie opens up the conversation for viewers to challenge their minds and see what kind of conclusions they can draw regarding the scenarios the movie so vividly presents to its audience.

In the movie, Mo also comes to some very fascinating findings such as when he inhabits Tristan’s body, not only can he look like Tristan but he can do what Tristan can do as well whether Mo, himself, was trained to do it or not. This comes into play with a situation regarding playing the guitar. Filmmaker Alex Schaad isn’t afraid to tackle difficult themes here and the movie is all the stronger as a result.

The movie comes to a scene where a key character is found drowning. That situation makes for some very suspenseful moments. This film is always exploring its topics fearlessly and head on. Skin Deep is not afraid of taking big risks and, for that, it ultimately creates a world that will draw the viewer into the plot right from the word “go.” Of course, this film raises more questions than it provides answers for. That may, however, be the point.

The four central performances are all top notch. Mala Emde will make your heart melt as the ever so curious Leyla. Jonas Dassler, as Tristan, never hits a false note adding much depth to his emotional character throughout. In support, Dimitrij Schaad (who also co-wrote the film) hits it out of the park as Mo and Maryam Zaree’s Fabienne is truly special. These characters all merge into each other in ways that will keep the viewer watching with wonder as this premise is most definitely something that hasn’t been done before. Not this well, anyway.

Skin Deep will surely make for one of the most haunting movie experiences of the year. If the movie has some familiar elements at its core to make room for the new, groundbreaking ones, it’s all worth it in the end. Alex Schaad has made a very powerful testament to the human spirit in a story of how one’s body can help decide the life one truly wishes to live. It’s a very intense film.

Rating: 7.5/10

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