The Reflecting Skin
Directed by Philip Ridley. Starring Viggo Mortensen, Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Cooper, Sheila Moore, Duncan Fraser, David Longworth. (1990)
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Sept. 13, 1991
Like an irrational but beautiful dream, The Reflecting Skin unfolds with a clarity that's disturbing. It's a true American Gothic, a movie in which breathtakingly blue skies and Van Gogh-gold wheat fields are unlikely witnesses to the horrors confronting eight-year-old Seth Cooper. For Seth, the world of childhood is one of nightmares in broad daylight: his friends are being senselessly murdered, his tormented father incinerates himself before his eyes, his half-crazy mother abuses him, his beloved brother returning from World War II is mysteriously wasting away, and the strange woman living next door must be a vampire. In many respects, The Reflecting Skin evokes the unworldly mood of David Lynch's Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks, but without any frame of reference. For Lynch, banal goodness and the banal evil lying below its surface are virtually indistinguishable; he exposes the masquerade of superficial appearances by revealing that nothing is what it seems to be. In The Reflecting Skin, however, writer/director Ridley doesn't really reveal anything; the evil depicted here is simple, straightforward, and matter-of-fact. That's not to say that Ridley should have imitated Lynch thematically, but you nevertheless want this film to explore its narrative dimensions a little more. Part of his problem is the film's point of view: the eyes and mind of the impressionable Seth, bravely played by Cooper. You get the impression Ridley believes that the terrible things happening to Seth are somehow borne of a child's inability to understand the adult world, and yet, no grown-up could ever comprehend those things any better. Even with its obvious flaws, however, there's something oddly compelling about this weird, weird movie. The Reflecting Skin may befuddle you by what it's all about, but like a vivid dream, you'll have a difficult time forgetting it.