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A young boy tries to cope with rural life circa 1950s and his fantasies become a way to interpret events. After his father tells him stories of vampires, he becomes convinced that the widow up the road is a vampire, and tries to find ways of discouraging his brother from seeing her. He must deal with an abusive mother, a father with a charge of molestation, a band of youths creating havoc, and an unforgiving environment in general. Written by
Ed Sutton <email@example.com>
British author and writer Philip Ridley has done very little in the field of cinema, but what there is, is more than interesting and great, especially in the case of this debut of his, Reflecting Skin (1990). The film stars Jeremy Cooper as a some 10 year old boy named Seth Dove, who lives in the rural areas of America in the 1950's, when the WWII is still very freshly in minds. Seth has friends whom he plays with like boys normally do, but it seems like they are always very cold and wicked towards each other, and that something isn't quite right. Seth's father and mother are also more than ominous and weird. Soon Seth's older brother arrives in home from WWII in which he served during the bombing of Japan. Brother Cameron is played by Viggo Mortensen, and first he and Seth seem to be very close with each other, but not for long. Also, a weird lady lives near Seth's house and the lady - despite being very attractive - is also very bizarre and threatening, and almost like a vampire in a fairy tales, which Seth's father happens to read all the time. There's no need to tell more about the plot, you've got it by this point that this film isn't going to be any optimistic and positive pack of 90 minutes entertainment. This is nearly as disturbing as possible, and has characters and settings which would make (and hopefully have made or will make) David Lynch give a huge hug to Philip.
Reflecting Skin is the kind of film a director manages to do perhaps just once during his career. It tries to reach the top which is so high, it is almost impossible to succeed or at least succeed more than once in subsequent films. Reflecting Skin - I have really come to this conclusion - really succeeds and how fantastically it does! I knew this film will be a tough and challenging one, but it was more, when I finally FINALLY managed to find it and watch it.
The film has absolutely zero likable characters or characters who can be described as good or good willing. They are all bad, others more and others less. Others may have had an opportunity not to become that way due to their young age, while others are so corrupted and rotten, they should have been 'saved' when they were still vulnerable kids themselves. This film shows the kind of things about childhood and growing up many parents wouldn't probably even dare to thing about, but still I think this should be seen by every parent who is going to have or already has had a child who is waiting to be raised as a decent and undisturbed human being.
But what about Seth, since he is also very mean and selfish at many points? I think it is among the points and things which make this film so powerful and merciless, because there's absolutely no hope for the characters of the film, they're gone/destroyed for ever and others just can't take it and go completely insane and self destuctive. But there's hope for us, the viewers, who accept the film's challenging subjects and things from our everyday life. This film teaches, shows, enlightens and horrifies us as powerfully as it makes us wonder the visual beauty and settings of the film.
The visual eye of Ridley's is great and wonderful, and Reflecting Skin proved it for the first time in big screen. The collaboration of Ridley and cinematographer Dick Pope (The Way of the Gun) is among the greatest I've seen for long time. The fields and rural settings are so gorgeous and the colors in which they bathe really fill this film with cinematic magic, which is also present in Ridley's The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995) which was photographed by John de Borman. Darkly Noon fails a little as it hasn't got characters as deep as they should, but visually Reflecting Skin and Darkly Noon are equally brilliant and stunning. Due to the much stronger and disturbing emotional content and elements of Reflecting Skin, the visual beauty naturally gives a huge contrast to the experience, and also a goal which should be reached by the film's characters, unless it wasn't already too late for them.
Music is very important element in Cinema, and Reflecting Skin shines on that level, too. Nick Bicât composed both Darkly Noon and Reflecting Skin, but the soundtrack in the latter really stayed into my mind after the first viewing. It is very close to Clint Mansell's unique power in Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream's (2000) soundtrack. Aronofsky's film would not be as powerful without Mansell's heart stopping and breaking music, and that is also the case with Reflecting Skin. The final image and last 2 minutes of Reflecting Skin would be extremely intense without the music, but now they are perfectly harrowing and powerful, thanks to the talent and gift of Nick Bicât.
These ultra powerful and harrowing films usually have at least one element in common: the final scene, sequence or image, which usually takes the viewer as far as possible and truly tests the tolerance, without never being gratuitous or exploitative. Reflecting Skin's ending is heart breakingly harrowing, mostly because of the fact that Seth has never given clues of something like this during the film, and thus it comes pretty unexpectedly, but still very understandably, as it all tightens the film's message and theme for the last time. The ending is very powerful and so is the artist behind this film.
Ridley has also written the screenplay for Peter Medak's The Krays on same year (1990), but that film has different themes and is not as important and personal as Reflecting Skin, but still The Krays is recommended for those interested in Ridley. It is very sad and weird that Ridley hasn't done anything in the field of cinema for many years (as far as I know, Darkly Noon is so far the last film he has done), because it would be so great if there was some future projects and cinema plans for the director. I really hope Ridley would continue making films one day, because world needs his kind of film makers.
I can't say anything which would give Reflecting Skin less than 10/10 because it lacks all the things - mostly little too shallow characters - which make The Krays and Darkly Noon a little less effective and striking works. Reflecting Skin is a true masterpiece but only for those who can accept and stand extremely depressing and harrowing images, situations, human destinies and over all atmosphere, and most importantly, honest and uncompromising cinema.
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