JWR Articles: Film/DVD - The Skin of the Teeth (Director/Writer: Matthew Wollin) - May 27, 2019

The Skin of the Teeth

4 4
80 min.

Believe nothing; savour it all

By the skin of one’s teeth means just barely, by a narrow margin, just in time. The phrase by the skin of one’s teeth is found in the book of Job in the Old Testament of the Bible. (grammarist.com).

Some films deliberately ask more questions than they provide answers. By journey’s end, some viewers will be annoyed, others puzzled and a few go away delighted that they can come to their own conclusions about what just might or might not have happened.

Director-writer Matthew Wollin’s first feature shows much promise, imagination and a willingness to slip away from conventional narrative techniques. How marvellous to be greeted and bid adieu by a wonderfully reedy bass clarinet (composer Todd Maki also reinforces the atmosphere by employing low flute to complete the love duet, then harp and cello to add still more textures). Also binding the production together is the seemingly innocuous prop of a title-less (to viewers) paperback publication—apparently needing to be hidden—first seen in the hands of John (Donal Brophy does a fine job playing the older man whose penchant for younger men might just be the death of him), or is that really Jesse? In the coda, (another marvel of unanswered questions including domain entry and miraculous kitchen cleanup) the other “J” of the pair, Joseph, stumbles onto the book’s hiding place. It falls to Pascal Arquimedes to carry most of the film singlehandedly; after a slow start—the dialogue coming across as uneven in the early going—the camera-ready actor delivers some masterful scenes, including a wordless up-close-and-personal wall massage with his back inside the police interview room.

Joseph’s interrogators come in the decidedly contrasting forms of Detective Locarno (Tom Rizzuto is readily believable as the “I can make this easy on you if you will just suspend your rights” cop, resplendent in his blue boxers—isn’t that the new dress code for law enforcement when dealing with gay suspects?) and sidekick, Detective Matthews. In two roles—also playing public defender Amanda Hastler—Chuja Seo demonstrates a wide dramatic range whether getting decidedly wet due to her fetish for suspects, or—in a homage to Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut—donning a mask while manipulating her client to sign a pre-written defence.

The other vital glue to all of the events—real or imagined—are “psychoactive drugs.” The most imaginative ingestion of same comes when Joseph must turn over his clothes to his investigators (no attempt at looking away by either of them—no one could blame them!). Being a second helping in the same night, the film silently makes its case for purposeful vagueness for what seems and what is. Other curiosities such as “county” police in charge of a New York City homicide only add more delightfully confusing fuel to the constantly shifting storyline.

Perhaps all of the answers are in the mysterious book; just as readily the biblical reference may well be a critic’s own red herring stemming from the title. See the film and puzzle it out for yourself! JWR

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Director/Writer - Matthew Wollin
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