The Reflecting Skin
Reviewed by Jan 16th, 2010

This is another one of those films billed as a horror flick because nobody could figure out what else to call it. But that’s about all it really has in common with most movies. A lot of people have compared The Reflecting Skin to the work of my two favorite Daves, that is, Lynch and Cronenberg. While there are a few viscerally horrific scenes a la Cronenberg, I don’t see much similarity there. And contrary to popular belief, David Lynch does not hold the monopoly on claustrophobic deviance-and-dysfunction-masquerading-behind-innocence themes. In short, Philip Ridley’s vision here is his own. It’s a visually stunning, dreamlike yet tragic and complete world, though not one everyone might like to visit.

The beautiful landscapes and cinematography resembles an Edward Hopper painting come to life, but just beneath the early 20th century rural landscape lies a nightmare world of loss and decay. It’s a film that brutally exaggerates and puts on display everything negative a child might experience.

Eight-year-old Seth Dove has an abusive and not-all-there mother and a closet-homosexual father who is suspected of murder. Seth and his friends Eben and Kim enjoy vandalizing the neighbor’s house and exploding frogs. The movie is just one bizarre and tragic scenario after another. The only remotely “normal” character is Seth’s older brother Cam, who falls in love with the neighbor Dolphin (who Seth suspects of vampirism, thus creating a widening rift between the brothers).

Eben is found dead in the waterhole, and Seth’s father commits suicide in a rather disturbing scene. Later Cam says to Seth, “Why don’t you go play with your friends?” Seth responds, “They’re all dead.” There are some disturbing metaphors present here, and the whole film has an atmosphere of complete hopelessness, yet at the same time is somehow very beautiful. It touches on many issues that are ignored by the usual films about childhood: such as feelings about sexuality, and the unintentional cruelty of children.

In the end, Reflecting Skin is a horrific and thought-provoking drama about the loss of innocence, or perhaps the absence of any innocence to begin with. The actors are all pretty competent, though Jeremy Cooper’s portrayal of Seth is rather half-assed. But you should be forgiving of child actors, and the rest of the film more than makes up for it. There is even some strange humor thrown into the mix, and at 98 minutes, the film seemed way too short for me. This is a very disturbing film that will stay with you long after you watch it. Recommended.

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