The mad-scientist tale has remained more or less fixed since the beginning of sound cinema: From Dr. Frankenstein's claim to "know what it feels like to be God" to Jurassic Park's criticism of "scientists [who] were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn't stop to think if they should," these are stories about scientific innovators who are essentially good men—or were until they got so carried away with their own powers of creation. The main narrative of Pedro Almodóvar's latest hews to that template, but to unusual ends: Its moral compass is totally, thrillingly whacked as Almodóvar dispenses with traditional notions of good versus evil, perpetrators and victims. Almodovar's 18th feature stars Antonio Banderas as Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon who develops a revolutionary new human skin that ultimately plays a role in his diabolical plot to avenge the deaths of his wife and daughter. The link between Dr. Ledgard's invention and that payback is Vera (Elena Anaya), a beautiful patient whom the doctor keeps in a room in the palatial home he shares with his maid (Marisa Paredes). It's probably not much of a surprise that no member of this triangle is exactly who they seem to be, but to explain more would spoil much of the pleasure in this ever-unfurling, ultimately infuriating web of a film, which deflates in its final third with crude set pieces, dumb psychology, and bursts of intentional camp canceling out the creepiness.
The patient (Anaya) has her revenge.
Opens at Egyptian, Fri., Nov. 4. Rated R. 117 minutes.