At first glance, Charlie Steeds’ Winterskin appears to be crawling with genre cliches. A lone protagonist separated from their group? Check. A cabin in the woods inhabited by a creepy old lady? Check. An ever-present threat of something deadly lurking in the woods? You betcha. I suppose on some level these are all, in fact, tired and worn devices that make their way into Steeds’ latest offering in some way or another, but it’s what he does with those tried and true tropes that separates Winterskin from the pack.
Shot almost entirely in a single location, Winterskin makes excellent use of its close quarters by placing drama and conflict right in the center of it. Yes, there is some sort of fleshless monster attempting to kill everyone, but it’s the dynamic between protagonist Billy Cavanagh and his rescuer/captor, Agnes, that keeps things interesting beyond the immediate threat. Steeds is constantly setting narrative traps for the audience; luring us down one path only to pull the rug out from under us at the last moment.
It’s a largely effective approach that is only occasionally hampered down by a supporting role here or there. Steeds, in typically fashion, chose to shoot on an array of gear that provides a hazy and almost dream-like quality to his footage. It’s a decision that serves him well in interior sequences, but something is lost in translation any time we venture outside of the cabin and into the frigid winter temperatures. The dynamic range simply isn’t there, and as a result, it’s near impossible to distinguish between snowy trails and winter sky. That said, the occasional visual imperfection or missing audio accompaniment fits right at home in the retro niche that Steeds has carved-out for himself. It’s a matter of style and preference over inexperience or knowledge, and I can respect that.
Accompanying Steeds’ hallmark visuals is his penchant for the grotesque. Winterskin may thrive in the situational horror between Billy and Agnes, but it’s not without a few gallons of the red stuff. In fact, I’d wager that Winterskin houses one of the most demented and well-executed FX gags I’ve seen this year. The team should be very proud of the work turned in. It’s pretty twisted.
In the end, you probably know if Winterskin is up your alley by the time you’ve finished the trailer. It’s ultra indie horror that outperforms its budget and scale by a hefty margin. If you come for the twists but stay for the gore, I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Steeds continues to improve not only as a filmmaker but as a storyteller, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Winterskin is available right now on digital platforms courtesy of High Octane Pictures.
‘Winterskin’ Blends Bloody Twists with Close-Quarters Terror [Review]