Film Review: THE SKIN OF THE TEETH (USA 2018)

The Skin of the Teeth Poster
After his date takes a shocking turn, a man is plunged into a surreal interrogation of just who and what he is.


Matthew Wollin

THE SKIN OF THE TEETH is an ambitious LGBT psychological drama written and directed by Matthew Wollin that plays in select North American cities come May the 10th.  It held its world premiere at the Twin Cities Film Festival and went on to have a healthy festival life, including the prestigious Newfest and Outfest.  It has been described as a cross between GRINDR and GET OUT.

For non gay audiences unfamiliar with they hook up scene, GRINDR is a gay hookup app that many a gay people use to get no-strings attached sex.  A profile is created and once on, one can see all gay people with their profiles in the near vicinity.   Hook ups are so simple.  The film has a meet up between a white and black man in which identities are questioned.

THE SKIN OF THE TEETH is a two act film.  The first act is the meet up.  The second is the detective’s questioning of the black man, which is taken a step further.  The first act is the more interesting one, which results in a let down by the film’s end.

When Josef King (Pascal Arquimedes) arrives at John Burstner’s (Donal Brophy) apartment for a date, their prickly energy slowly gives way to an unusual and genuine chemistry. But after Josef takes a pill with unclear effects, the night takes a shocking turn, and he is plunged into a surreal interrogation of just who and what he is.  The interrogation is headed by Detective Locarno (Tom Rizzuto) and Detective Matthews (Chuja Seo) who are as weird as they come.

The first act is the more interesting as writer/director Wollin plays with the two characters introduced to the audience who are never sure who the weird one is.  Is John the one going to turn on Josef or the other way around?  Wollin creates an amazing build-up, so intriguing that the aftermath is a let-down.  It turns out that Josef turns weird but only because he consumed some unknown drug he found in John’s bedroom.

This is where the film goes down hill.  For one, who in their right mind would pop down a pill one is unsure of.  Josef ends up behaving really strangely.  As no mdma (‘Molly’) or ecstasy pill or other recreational drug gives the effects experienced by Josef (but maybe LSD), the drug is described by John as an experimental drug.  Josef ends up killing John, ending up being interrogated by the detectives.  Or is all this a hallucination?

The trouble is that Wollin fails to connect the audience his characters.  It is difficult to feel sympathetic and to care to what happens to a care-free sex crazed gay couple who take drugs.  And when everything could be a dream – one would care even less as to what happens.  The interrogating detectives are too weird to anchor the second act.

We get it.  Reality is ambiguous and we have to decide if what occurs on screen in real or a hallucination.

Despite an excellent build up and a few good moments, THE SKIN OF THE TEETH though well made on a limited budget disappoints leading nowhere.