Still, it's not what you may think. First-time filmmaker Daniel Roby introduces us to Black, streetwise Henri (Frédéric Pierre) and naïve White country boy Thierry (Marc Paquet), Montreal roommates who visit a pair of prostitutes in the film's first sequence. Nervous Thierry isn't interested, but confesses to his dame that he abhors redheads, that their pale skin makes him "want to vomit." Meanwhile, in the next room, something seriously bloody is going down with Henri and his redheaded hooker.
The guys assume Henri's blackness may be frightening to some girls. Perhaps. But what of Thierry's odd views about whites? His tastes really don't compute when he actually falls for a statuesque redhead named Claire (Marianne Farley, with pale skin, of course), carrying on intense trysts with her that are slightly hallucinogenic. Claire's strange comments after sex, paired with Thierry's undying dedication, give White Skin the feel of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. One of the pair just isn't right. Okay, maybe both of them aren't. But how, exactly?
Roby, who co-wrote the screenplay with the book's author, Joël Champetier, throws in a series of tense, eyebrow-raisers that work in varying degrees -- Claire's spooky family, the removal of Claire's gorgeous red hair, an emotional wedge between the roommates -- building to a climax that comes up a little short. As the true identities of the story and characters become clear, the film slides away from originality and gets too comfortable with the act of just creeping around an empty apartment.
Since Roby can handle the standard scary details with a good rhythm, that empty apartment stuff is passable. But the film's pace gets scattershot heading into the final act; the fine tension does loosen a little, until a skillful ending saves a somewhat flat final chapter.
Aside from narrative hiccups, Roby and company perform admirably and the filmmaker should be applauded for his casting. The wrong actors could have delivered obvious stereotypes, but that's been avoided: Paquet is boyish and green, but not gullible; Pierre is a natural, not playing into the "big, overwhelming black man" role; and Farley shows off confidence, fear and dexterity as the pivotal, mysterious Claire.
There's definitely a satisfaction to seeing a movie you can't quite figure out, and Roby seems to understand that. You can be on the edge of your seat expecting thriller-type scares, but there's some real stress in not even knowing if you're actually watching a thriller. As long as the journey moves briskly and has something to say, it works. White Skin, for the most part, does that. While this comes marginally recommended for all, self-proclaimed weirdos should certainly check it out.
Aka La Peau blanche. Reviewed at the 2005 Independent Film Festival of Boston.
Run time: 92 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 17th March 2005
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
IMDB: 6.0 / 10
Director: Daniel Roby
Producer: Daniel Roby
Screenwriter: Daniel Roby, Joël Champetier