In a world where every episode of Full House and a film where a hot dog becomes lodged in a woman's cleavage (albeit, an amazing film where a hot dog becomes lodged in a woman's cleavage) can make it to DVD, you have to just scratch you head and wonder why a gem like The Reflecting Skin is still collecting dust in video stores across the country wearing the sticker “be kind, rewind”.
It is unlikely you'll see anything quite like this stylized American Gothic tale that plays like the love child of David Lynch, David Cronenberg and Andrew Wyeth. Imagine Wyeth's isolated farm houses and sweeping fields of wheat; now visualize cruel children, child molesting serial killers, desperately lonely suicidal people, and dead fetuses hiding among them.
The film's photographed with cinematic grace by Dick Pope and written and directed by Briton Philip Ridley, who has only done one other feature film, The Passion Of Darkly Noon, which also stars Viggo Mortensen and also deals with the ignorance of people who fear women as monsters. He is also a playwright, a novelist, and just about anything else you can imagine.
The Reflecting Skin takes place in Idaho during the second world war. A young boy and his friends, all played with an “aw-shucks” stiltedness that ends up being oddly effective, pass the time by blowing up frogs, destroying property, and making up tales of vampires. When true tragedy strikes them and their families, the unguided children grow more and more confused by the ruthless outside world of adults.
The rest of the cast, including Lindsay Duncan, the wraith like beauty of Mike Leigh film Grown Ups (a big favorite) and HBO's Rome, and Viggo Mortensen (looking only slightly less handsome for lack of age) are exceptional. He proves that his intense dedication to his characters has always been impressive and that he was never afraid to go nude. He breathes life and complexity into a potentially wooden character and he does it with a hairy chest (sigh).
It had been several years since I had seen this movie, but it stayed with me like a recurring dream. Even with its minor flaws of over scoring and heavy handedness, both of which seem to work despite themselves, it is worth seeking out – particularly for fans of Gothic southern or dark independent film making.