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>
If you watch THE REFLECTING SKIN closely (or even not so closely) you'll notice that it sucks. This is a film that tosses in bits and pieces of imagery and motifs that might have come from American/Southern gothic sources like Sam Shepard, Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner, David Lynch, Anne Rice and Tobe Hooper (and others) -- but it fails to make its world seem the least bit vital or interesting. All we are left with are pseudo-disturbing characters and bits of imagery that don't want to fit together: the cliched townie puritans and religious fanatics, a dead baby, an English neighbor nearby who may or may not be a vampire, an hysterical mother with a husband who is a repressed homosexual, and most strangely there is a group of greaser murderer/pedophiles who drive around almost completely unnoticed in a shiny black Plymouth. This narrative is all led by a 9 year old protagonist boy named Seth Dove (and his stock set of small town friends) and his older brother Cam (played by Viggo Mortensen) who just returned from fighting the Japanese.
Not much really happens in this film except that there is a lot of yelling and menacing looks. Seth runs back and forth between the different characters and locales as though he were attending exhibits at the Yakpanatwa (sorry about the spelling) Country Fair for Southern Gothic Cliches. Occasionally he or one of his friends runs around draped in an American flag. Hmmm -- this must have some sort of deep meaning. But who cares about subtext when text is so boring and phony?
The film has some nice cinematography, which is what makes it tolerable to watch. But as it goes on you begin to realize that this over-emphasis on visual beauty is a kind of device to distract the audience from possibly realizing that there is nothing interesting going on.
Disparate stock characters and cliches from American gothic horror and southern gothic sources could be interesting if it all these elements were supported by a unique screenplay and guided by a gifted director (go rent Jim Jarmusch's DEAD MAN, which is not a great film, but a much better one that takes a similar approach to its material). But this writer/director unfortunately has little such skill in either department. The acting is mostly over the top (though many of the actors are good) and there is little suspense or mystery about the visual style and directorial approach. By trying to bombard the audience with style (especially the excruciatingly over the top orchestral and choral score) the director proves to have hardly any style at all.
One gets the sense that this director is not an American -- but for some reason felt compelled to try to say something deep and meaningful about America. One gets the sense that he doesn't really know these characters at all -- or the land they live on. Yet perhaps as a kid this director feverishly and fetishistically read and viewed materials about death, perversity and horror in the Midwest and Great Plains - and could only come up with a kind of Wisconsin Death Trip for Basic Cable. Nice try. Better luck next time.
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