Winterskin is the third horror film I have seen from writer/director Charlie Steeds (Death Ranch, An English Haunting). It may also be the one with the lowest budget as nearly the entire movie takes place in one small cabin with just the two characters. What starts off with an interesting premise turns into something quite different by the end of the film, and despite some dodgy attempts at American accents this English made horror tells an effective enough story.
While out hunting with his father in the woods, Billy (David Lenik - An English Haunting) discovers a secluded cabin and is promptly shot by the owner, an old woman named Agnes (Rowena Bentley - The House of Violent Desire). He wakes up in her house, the lady apologises for his injury and explains that she has been haunted by a strange skinless monster for the past few weeks. Billy plans to stay at the cabin until he is well enough to travel back to town and puts down the lady's tall tales as her being a little crazy. As time passes it seems that Agnes really is being stalked by something, yet despite this apparent truth Billy begins to suspect he may be better off elsewhere due to Agnes' increasingly unbalanced behaviour.
This all begins with a blood soaked prologue in which a family of four are killed by an intruder to their home, setting up the idea of some sort of monster whether human or otherwise loose in the area. Throughout the first two acts there are peppered clues that what Agnes says is actually true. It led to a good contrast between the evil without and the evil within, I couldn't help but get a Misery type vibe off the old woman, afterall she is constantly referring to herself in the third person which is just one alarm bell that she isn't quite all there. With most the film dealing with the two characters of Billy and Agnes we do get the occasional scene change, following Billy's dad and other townsfolk who are in the area searching for Billy. That at least some of these scenes intercut with the main story don't actually take place chronologically as at first appears led to some fun payoff later.
At nearly ninety minutes long Winterskin did begin to feel a bit stretched out. This appeared not to have the greatest budget, having it all mainly set in one small room was a good way to get around this but the story between Agnes and Billy often felt a bit circular. Billy would begin to suspect the things Agnes was saying to him were not true, then there would be some evidence she was speaking the truth. This repetitive structure made up most of the first two acts. It then of course introduces the interesting concept that both these things were true, leading to Billy's dilemma of being trapped with a possibly crazy person or taking his chances with whatever was most certainly out in the woods. The acting throughout the film was strange, characters dialogue sounded like something you would read in a book, Agnes in particular never once sounded sincere in what she was saying. It wasn't just relegated to her though, the characters in the subplot also had this bizarre way of over empathising their lines which must have been a purposeful direction they were told to go in. It at once made this feel like a fairytale that was playing out and that it was most definitely not going for a realistic feel.
Winterskin may begin to be a bit dull due to being trapped with mostly just the two characters, but it had some good ideas with the direction the story went. When the moments of violence do occur there was plenty of blood and gore, with some unexpectedly gruesome and painful looking moments. Sometimes this surprised with the direction, I especially thought a scene towards the end that plays out without sound effects or dialogue, with just the music playing worked well. Look past the weird way characters talk this wasn't a bad indie horror, and it had a solid wintery vibe to it. Winterskin releases on 31st January 2022 thanks to High Fliers Films.