The Skinford films

We got here, because Black Mandala kindly sent us a screener of Skinford: The Curse for us to take a look at. But as the opening credits unspooled, it quickly became clear that we were already joining a story significantly in progress. Further investigation revealed that this was actually the second part, a sequel to a movie titled Skinford, which came out in 2017 – but it had been re-released last year as Skinford: Death Sentence. Fortunately, that one was easily available, being on Amazon Prime, so we were able to catch up with that. I’m rather glad we did, because I suspect if we had tried to make sense of the sequel on its own, I fear our heads might have exploded.

Skinford sprang from a vivid image: a woman clawing out of the earth, a symbol of rebirth and haunting past.”

Meanwhile, the sequel was originally known as Skinford: Chapter Two, but had also been retitled, as Skinford 2: The Curse. Adding to the confusion, each title has its own entry on the IMDb, despite being (from what I can tell) exactly the same movie. I explain all this because, as we’ll see, I’m not the first to have ended up a bit baffled by the whole situation. Neither film appears to have received much attention: at time of writing, despite being over five years old, the second has only 80 votes on the IMDb, and that’s across both pages combined. They deserve better, and I wanted to do my part to point people in their direction.

Not least because there really needs to be further installments, to deliver closure to these characters. However, we’ll cross that bridge when get to it. We begin in 2017, when creator Nik Kacevski had an ambitious creative vision: “Skinford sprang from a vivid image: a woman clawing out of the earth, a symbol of rebirth and haunting past.” Taking inspiration from comic-books like Preacher and 100 Bullets, his aim was to “meld a gritty crime thriller with a supernatural twist.” Not just one movie either. “Skinford was born a saga,” Kacevski says. “Not just one movie but five, each delving into different aspects of the human condition.” So, let’s crack on with the first course, shall we?

Skinford: Death Sentence (2017)

Rating: B

Dir: Nik Kacevski
Star: Joshua Brennan, Charlotte Best, Goran D. Kleut, Shae Beadman
a.k.a. Skinford

The crimes of small-time crook Jimmy Skinford (Brennan) have finally caught up with him. He’s now digging his own grave at gunpoint, having ripped off crime boss Falkov (Kleut). Just when the end is nigh, he finds another body already in the hole. Worse, its hand reaches out and grabs Jimmy as the bullets fly into him. But miraculously, he’s somehow unhurt. The body in question belongs to Zophia (Best), who has been blessed, or cursed, with immortality, a talent which extends to anyone she is touching. Needless to say, this presents an obvious opportunity for Jimmy – not least to help his terminally-ill father – but when word gets out about Zophie’s ability, the pair become the local area’s most wanted couple.

The above may seem weird enough. Yet it’s only scratching the surface. For example, the truck belonging to Falkov which Jimmy “lost”? Full of trafficked women. In their underwear. Including his ex-girlfriend. Who have all had bombs implanted in their abdomens. By a mad, East European surgeon. Why? No idea. Or the psychotic prepubescent girl (top) who appears to be Falkov’s boss, or something. What’s that about? No idea. The film is considerably better at throwing things out there than explaining them, and that goes for the nature of Zophie’s curse as well. Turns out she received it from someone, and that person holds the key to Zophie passing it on, and getting the blessed release she desires. For immortality, as usual in movies, is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Either despite, or because of the wildness, this is quite the ride. It’s a violent, foul-mouthed and bizarre film, but we found it quite compelling. The makers are fully committed to its nature, and you rarely get the sense they pulled back from the results. Brennan and Best make their characters an interesting odd couple – though to be fair, just about everyone in this deserves to be classified as “odd” by normal standards. This leads to a contrast between elements that are painfully grounded, and those which appear to take place in some alternate universe where the usual rules of biology and physics don’t apply. On that basis, you have to cut it some slack for the lack of coherence: it likely makes more sense to its participants than viewers.

I’m trying to find films to which I can compare this, and struggling. He Never Died might be about the closest, sharing a mash-up of elements which range from the almost spiritual to the brutally earthy. This might be superior, simply due to the imaginative parade of characters and situations which it offers. There’s one particular sequence, in which one of the trafficked women returns to her former captor, that defies description. You have a horrible feeling you know where it’s going, but you can’t believe the makers will have the Antipodean balls to make it end as you suspect. It doesn’t. It’s probably worse, and also demonstrates the correct way to use CGI – to do things practical effects can’t manage.

One final note. The recent re-release of this under its new title seems to have confused some reviewers into thinking it’s a third entry in the franchise. I was particularly amused by one self-professed “professional film critic”, who wrote, “As someone who was not a fan of the previous films, I had hopes that this entry would finally win me over. Unfortunately, it falls short and ends up being one of the weakest films in the series to date.” Er… it is one of the previous films, you blithering imbecile. If you’d seen them, you would know. Maybe this is what happens when you let AI write reviews for you?

I think we’re all in need of a bit of a breather after that. For Skinford feels almost daringly ambitious, and according to Kacevski, among the biggest hurdles was  the need to keep things intense and surprising: “We pushed boundaries, explored dark themes, and kept audiences guessing at every turn. Maintaining that intensity was very challenging.” Another strength is the way all the characters seem perfectly suited to their parts. While this was partly down to an extensive casting process, the director says some roles were written for actors he had known or known of. “A good example is the characters Kovak and Falkov,” explains Nik. “Coco Jack Gillies being the tiniest actor I knew, and Goran Kleut being the tallest.” Ideal casting through height. Who knew?

With a replenished supply of popcorn, a beverage of choice to hand, and hopefully any bathroom needs attended to, we can move on to the second installment…

Skinford 2: The Curse (2018)

Rating: C+

Dir: Nik Kacevski
Star: Joshua Brennan, Charlotte Best, Jess Bush, Ric Herbert
a.k.a. Skinford: Chapter Two

This begins almost immediately after the end of the previous installment. It had finished off with a large gun-battle in a senior care facility – and that’s not a sentence I expected to be writing today. Jimmy Skinford (Brennan) is now on the run with unwilling immortal Zophia (Best) after the nasty series of revelations which came to pass at the end of part one. Not the least of these involved Jimmy’s father, Guy, being a kingpin in the local crime scene, and wanting his son to take over. He did not take kindly to Jimmy’s refusal, and is now among those seeking to hunt Zophia down. Meanwhile, she wants to return to the place where she gained eternal life, seeking a way out.

I would say this falls a little short of its predecessor. It suffers from middle-movie syndrome, meaning that it doesn’t have either a proper beginning or an end, leaving it imperfect as a standalone entity. The finale is particularly abrupt. Clearly, the saga is intended to continue in further installments. Sadly, to this point, there’s no sign of them appearing, and at this point, some of those involved have potentially moved on to other things. That’s certainly the case for Bush, who in flashbacks to the thirties plays Helen, the woman from whom Zophia took immortality. She’s now Nurse Chappel on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Here… not so much (top).

While that thread certainly fills in some back-story, and is well executed, it feels more like something which might have fitted better in the first installment, when we were  curious about Zophia’s origins. Now, we are more interested in what’s happening in the present day than her back-story – to some degree, the latter was one of those revelations mentioned above, and adequately covered at the end of the first film. What we get here is a bonus, rather than essential knowledge. I’d prefer to have got additional development of the current situation, though this offers the same combination of excess and confusion as previously. I mean, this is a franchise where someone can get half their face blown away at point-blank range, and it only pisses them off.

The film is once again filled out with a range of supporting characters who start at unusual, and end up at batshit-crazy. I particularly liked Guy Skinford’s bodyguard. She would seem to have a backstory of her own, being loyal beyond a fault, while masquerading as a nurse in his care-home. Almost everyone we see here has potential for a spin-off, or at least deeper exploration, and it’s the inventiveness of imagination which keeps things entertaining. But when the end suddenly comes, with a punch in the face, and the credits roll, it’s almost as much of a blow to the viewer, as the character who receives it. Give me chapter three, or give me death, goddamnit.

The film will be released later in 2024 on Amazon Prime.

Here we are, six years later, and waiting to see what happens next. “I’m still waiting too,” sympathizes Kacevski. But he did give us a sneak peek into what we might expect from the next installment. “The third film dives deeper into the history of ‘the curse,’ exploring the connection between Axton and Zophia. It’s a tale of immortal yearning and human touch. What we learn is that when they are making skin contact, the curse is momentarily lifted. Suffice to say, Zophia becomes addicted to ‘feeling’ again, as a new drug.” The director remains committed to his twisted vision, saying “Skinford parts 3, 4 and 5 scripts are waiting patiently to be brought to life.”

We can only hope they reach our screen some day…

Thanks to Black Mandala and Nik Kacevski for their help in this piece.