Sundance movie review: 'In My Mother's Skin' evokes creepy mood

The Fairy (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) makes Tala an offer she can't refuse in "In My Mother's Skin." Photo courtesy of Epicmedia
The Fairy (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) makes Tala an offer she can't refuse in "In My Mother's Skin." Photo courtesy of Epicmedia

Jan. 21 (UPI) -- In My Mother's Skin, which premiered Friday at the Sundance Film Festival, is a bloody, macabre fairy tale from the Philippines. Writer-director Kenneth Dagatan has filtered familiar horror tropes through his unique lens.

In 1945 Philippines, children Tala (Felicity Kyle Napuli) and Bayani (James Mavie Estrella) are staying with their ill mother, Ligaya (Beauty Gonzalez), while their father (Arnold Reyes) attends to some postwar business with the Japanese.


While playing outside, Tala wanders into an overgrown chapel where a Fairy (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), in a headdress made of giant insect wings, knows Tala's name and offers to help her mother. The Fairy is up front that this cure will possess her mother, but Tala accepts.

Once Tala delivers the cure, Dagatan shows glimpses that all is still not well with Ligaya. Images of bulges under her skin, bloody veins, her tongue stretching abnormally long and an unnatural appetite are shown in a glimpse, but not lingered on.

Dagatan shows an assured hand at presenting this tale. He's invented his own mythology and presents it with glimpses of graphic horror, but much more focus on the mood.

Just like Jaws didn't show the shark too much, In My Mother's Skin spends more time with the children observing Ligaya than with Ligana. However, what Dagatan does show is far more overt and graphic than the PG-rated Jaws.


This fairy tale is building to a familiar conclusion, but one that was foreshadowed in the opening shot. Before we even meet the kids, the viewer sees someone chowing down on a body.

So Dagatan is playing fair. It's not supposed to be some twist. Tala is making a deal with the devil, but a devil that's not the traditional red guy with horns.

Dagatan gets great child performances out of Napuli and Estrella. These kids already were forced to grow up fast by the war, then they experience supernatural horror.

Bayani doesn't appreciate what Tala has done, and Tala has to confront what she's created.

The combination of new mythology with reliable horror keeps In My Mother's Skin fresh. When Dagatan does show the consequences, there are some truly disturbing gruesome images, but to specify them would be spoilers.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

Latest Headlines