IMDB description:A teenager who went missing and was presumed dead returns home after eight years to find a family deeply affected by his disappearance. Gradually, doubts arise about whether he really is the missing boy or an impostor.”

Why I Took It off the List

After reviewing the excellent series Patria (2020) last time, I felt like catching up on some other Spanish-produced films and TV I’d had on my list for a while.

I’d had La Propera Pell (La Próxima Piel in Spanish/The Next Skin in English) on my list for a while, and despite the fact I live in Catalonia, haven’t actually seen that many Catalan-language films (the underrated Animals (2012) notwithstanding).

I saw that it was now on Spanish Netflix, so decided it was time to take another one off the list!

Expectations

Not too many. I’d seen the trailer for La Propera Pell a while back and thought it looked like an, intriguingly, dark and atmospheric drama, the story of which reminded me a lot of that of French conman Frédéric Bourdin, as told in the fantastic documentary The Imposter (2012).

So I was kind of expecting a dramatic retelling of a similar story, albeit in Catalan and set against the backdrop of a small ski resort town in the Pyrenees.

Spoilers? Nope, I’ll largely avoid spoilers in favor of a vague description of what to expect!

Review of La Propera Pell

La Propera Pell does turn out to have quite a lot in common with the story of Frédéric Bourdin in that it follows the arrival of a long-missing person back in their supposed family home and the resulting compilations that arise.

However, where it was pretty clear in both The Imposter and The Chameleon (2010), a dramatic retelling of Bourdin’s story, that the returnee was not who he was claiming to be, La Propera Pell plays much more with ambiguity and makes the identity of the young man a film-long, slow-burning mystery for the viewer to decipher.

This tactic mostly works to the film’s benefit, helped enormously by the nuanced performance of Alex Monner as a young man whose rough edges at first seem to make him an unlikely candidate to fill the space of the missing kid.

However, Monner’s convincingly damaged and bewildered performance, the somewhat hostile reactions some of the family have towards his reappearance, and the subtle hints that all was not as rosy before young Gabriel disappeared as it first seems, keeps you guessing pretty much right to the end.

The only downside of the film is that I felt it could have pushed this ambiguity even further and generated a bit more conflict in parts, as the dramatic momentum sometimes lags in favor of languid scenes of the characters going about their daily lives against the (admittedly stunning) snow-coated backdrops.

Tense and Well-Acted

Saying that, La Propera Pell is definitely an accomplished production that, like The Lodge (2019), which I reviewed last month, makes good use of its snowy, somewhat claustrophobic setting, as well as some sinister music cues that could be ripped from Kubrick’s The Shining, to generate ample tension.

Monner is also helped in the impactful acting department by the welcome presence of Emma Suárez, so great as the older version of the title character in Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta (2016), who gives a sympathetic, quiet, and ultimately heart-wrenching performance as the mother eager to accept her son back into the fold without asking too many questions.

Sergi López, best known for his terrifying performance as the fascist stepfather in Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), is also well-cast as the suspiciously combative uncle who may or may not have a motive for making his returning ‘nephew’ feel unwelcome.

Final Score: 6/10

Worth Checking Out?

Yes. Although La Propera Pell isn’t a particularly revelatory example of the ‘missing person returns home’ subgenre, fans of slow-burning mystery should enjoy the intriguing psychological drama and fine performances.

La Propera Pell (2016)

Directed by Isa Campo and Isaki Lacuesta

Written by Isa Campo, Isaki Lacuesta, Fran Araújo, and León Siminiani

Cast: Alex Monner, Emma Suárez, Sergi López

Stay tuned for my next review, coming soon!

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