Michaël Boucherie is a former dancer, a choreographer, and an award-winning maker of short films, but Where The Skin Lies is the first feature that he has directed and co-written. On the strength of it, however, it won’t be the last. With its focus on a small group of people, isolated and beleaguered, who eventually turn viciously on each other, it certainly makes sense that this film should have its World Première at a genre festival, but its premise is so strange, so irrational, and so abstract, that what we see here ends up feeling entirely sui generis.
Six people, all connected by having come out alive together from an armed hostage incident a year earlier, head to a retreat in the Scottish Lowlands to celebrate the end of their subsequent group therapy sessions. It is clear, however, that they are all still marked by the trauma of that event. These scars, in some cases literal (one is in a wheelchair for the injuries he sustained) but mostly psychological, are writ large on their flesh by the matching commemorative tattoos which, by a bizarre coincidence, each of them has acquired independently. Yet even as they hope to find closure over the weekend, the six will learn that some wounds never heal, and that none of them is likely simply to be able to walk away from the sense of guilt, recrimination and monstrous self-justification that survival itself can bring.
Here is the high concept: the number ‘6’ inked on these folk is both changeable and transferrable. If someone makes any attempt to leave, or cedes any personal power, their number goes down (and you really don’t want it to reach zero), whereas if someone assumes authority, or harms others, their number goes up. There is no hint of how this is happening or who/what is behind this system, leaving viewers to work out for themselves whether the dingy Seventies-style holiday let where these people are staying is the deathtrap arena of some sadistic, possibly supernatural observer, or a twilight zone, or a manifestation of group psychology, or some kind of purgatory or space of Final Judgement. Whatever the case may be, as the tattooed numbers are revealed to be a collective resource with their own dynamic economy, game theory and the “tragedy of the commons” quickly come out to play, and these ordinary-seeming people are exposed for their selfishness, subterfuge and savagery, as they remain, by implication, hostages to their own essential moral makeup, concealed just beneath the skin.