Gunned down in the snowy wilderness and desperate for shelter, Billy Cavanagh is taken in by kooky old lady Agnes, unaware that her isolated log cabin is surrounded by bloodthirsty skinless creatures hellbent on getting inside.

Writer/Director/Producer Charlie Steeds proves that crazy may love company even more so than misery in his dark and dreary thriller Winterskin (2018). Set in a cabin in the woods, this psychological thriller has a high body count due to both shotguns and a skinless creature that make this bloody western-esque film a unique, albeit predictable, watch.

The film is set up by a cold opening of a frightened family being terrorized one night in their woodland cabin. As the father goes toe to toe with an unseen menace, the rest of the family cowers in horror, waiting for their turn. After that brief stop on our tour through these wintry woods of terror, we are taken to another time and place in the forest. It is the dead of winter and the woods are filled with hunters – animals, sportsmen, and a serial killer that has the locals investigating his (or her) sick crimes. Meanwhile, father and son, Russell (Peter Cosgrove) and Billy (David Lenik), are on a hunting trip for deer, despite the recent murders. Separating from his father to inspect a mysterious cabin, Billy suffers a crippling shotgun injury and passes out alone in the cold forest. Russell immediately launches a fevered search for his cherished son, but not before Billy is found by Agnes (Rowena Bentley), an elderly lady living in a cabin deep in the woods. After Billy finally wakes up, he is apprehensive but grateful for his savior, who at first seems like a well-meaning old lady nursing him back to health, but after a series of uncomfortable events, he soon finds she is actually keeping him prisoner. To make matters worse, there is a creature stalking the cabin — not animal, not human, but a red “something” — that obligates him to work with his captor.

From the outset of the film, nay, even from watching this film’s heart-pounding trailer, I am intensely reminded of Tarantino’s The Hateful 8; set in a snowy outback of America (though filmed in Europe), Winterskin’s bitter cold atmosphere can be felt through the screen. The dim lighting adds to the effect of setting up a dead and hollow forest, perfect for a cabin in the woods feature. It was impressive cinematography, especially when you consider that this is supposed to be a low-budget, independent feature that has no business looking like any Hollywood funded film.

After a cold set up, the film takes a sharp and welcome wrong turn towards Rob Reiner’s Misery with the introduction of a Psycho-like calm and unassuming serial killer, Agnes. Played by Rowena Bentley, who stole the show with her pitchy cackling and backwood patois, Bentley is an apparent muse of director Steeds having now starred in 3 of his films. Though David Lenik, in a relatable portrayal of bullet hole Billy, definitely has some great lines in the film, Winterskin was lucky to have Rowena’s gravitas on board as the narrative was too familiar of a premise to be attention keeping itself. Having the red man as an added baddie and horror element helped the movie stand out from its comparators, and the creature’s rare appearance in a scene offered thrilling moments in a script heavy on dialogue and monologues. The red man’s movements from body actor Daniel McKee were perfectly unsettling; the violence he brought was graphic, and his styling and makeup reminded me of those nightmarish things from the spine-chiller The Descent (2005). There is definitely something in the woods of Winterskin… good cinematography, dark humor and subtle American satire, and pretty good acting from its small cast.

It is not often that we are given a female killer, and an elderly one at that, and Charlie Steeds succeeds in giving us one that is maniacal and deadly, while also being fragile by not shying away from the character’s age and senility. Bentley and Steeds weave a great final chapter, well-shot and suspenseful by making good use of slow-mo to heighten the action of the climax. I’d say Charlie Steed’s Winterskin is worth a watch, and thanks to its production companies, Dark Temple and High Octane Pictures, the movie will be available on digital May 21st.

Runtime:1 hr 24 Mins.
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