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Tattoo (2002)

Save Your Skin...

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 109 minutes

UK Certificate: 18

When gruff homicide detective Minks (Christian Redl) catches Marc Schrader (August Diehl), an unambitious young cadet, taking ecstasy at a rave, instead of reporting him, Minks promotes him to the homicide department, hoping to use Schrader's rave-culture connections to locate his own estranged daughter (Jasmin Schwiers). The two are assigned to investigate the death of a woman run over by a bus when she was walking in the middle of the road, naked and delirious, with the finger of a previously convicted rapist (Joe Bausch) in her stomach. The case seems open-and-shut, especially after a bloody torture chamber and other bodies are found at the rapist's home – but when Schrader learns from the victim's beautiful fellow student Maya (Nadeshda Brennicke) that a legendary Japanese tattoo artist called Hiromitsu completed only twelve human artworks before he died, and that one of these twelve had been painted on the back of the victim, the investigation moves in an unexpected direction. Guided by the creepy lawyer Frank Schoubya (Johan Leysen), Minks and Schrader descend into a murky world of skin merchants and tattoo collectors, and are soon playing a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a killer for whom beauty is only skin deep.

While writer and director Robert Schwentke's previous work on various 'Krimis' for German television has no doubt contributed to his deft handling of police procedural in 'Tattoo', the less restricted medium of cinema allows him to explore a much darker seam of criminal activity, making this a film which relishes the more macabre and unpleasant aspects of human desire and obsession. Strongly reminiscent, in both subject matter and tone, of David Fincher's 'Seven', 'Tattoo' is a modern noir, complete with bleak, rainswept settings, an icy blonde femme fatale (who smokes), and some gory grand guignol. 'Tattoo' offers a viewing pleasure which feels at once illicit, perverted and voyeuristic, as its grim aesthetic is derived, like that of the flayed tattoos which it depicts as artworks, from human suffering and horror.

Which is to say that, like a tattooist's needle, this film will get right under your skin, and once its images have made their impression, you may well find them difficult to remove.

It's Got: Lots of tattooed skin, not always accompanied by the rest of the body.

It Needs: To be seen through to the end, as there is a good coda during the final credits.


A police investigation into the depths of human depravity and obession, where beauty is only skin deep. Dark, moody and horrifying.