We’ve got a fair idea about what it might be, given we’ve met a skinned and bloody creature in the film’s prologue, when it terrorises and dispatches the Carver family in another isolated cabin not too far away.
Meanwhile, a triumvirate of old blokes with long white hair led by the fabulously named Old Thin Ruth (played by the improbably named Barrington De La Roche) are on the hunt for both the missing Billy and the perpetrator of these human skinnings. The scene is set for a gruesome outcome.
This is my first encounter with the films of the prolific Charlie Steeds. WINTERSKIN is his fifth movie since 2016. He’s been Producer and Director of all five and for all but one of them (The Barge People) has chalked up a screenwriting credit as well. There’s a darkly comic seam that runs through this film. It starts with the heightened sense of characterisation, especially with regard to Agnes (with her over-the-top Southern accent) and Old Thin Ruth’s little posse and continues through the exaggerated gouts of blood that erupt from the victims of gunshots and other less conventional forms of bodily mayhem. Agnes is an entertaining antagonist in the vein of Annie Wilkes (Misery, 1990) but never quite rises to the same thrilling level that Kathy Bates found in that Stephen King adaptation (although she wields a cigar cutter just as well as Annie wielded her axe).
The problem with this film, though, is that, for me, it doesn’t have the narrative engine to sustain itself through its feature length. I feel like there’s a pretty terrific short film hiding out in its 84 minute running time, but beyond that I found the handful of scary or gory or horrifying moments were too often too far apart, separated by long passages of repetitive monologues from Agnes and multiple efforts by Billy to escape her clutches. The story spends a lot of time treading water while it waits for the next development and, as is too often the case, some of the suspense of ‘what is out there’ is stolen by the prologue. Consequently, we know more than Billy does about what lies ahead and that cheats us out of sharing his anxiety and suspense as the mystery and horror builds around him.
So much of this story takes place inside Agnes’ cabin and while the feeling of cabin fever is quite successfully created in many scenes, there’s another story happening outside the cabin that, for much of the movie, is neglected in a way that leaves us a bit confused as to who Old Thin Ruth and his cronies really are. It leaves us less invested in these characters when their outside world finally collides with the world inside the cabin. The upshot of all this, is that the violent and gory climax (which is, of course, to be expected) feels removed from any emotional connection with the characters so that the finale relies on the expenditure of a goodly amount of the red stuff which, for me, is not enough to engage us all the way through to the credits.