Friday, July 27, 2012

Ten Statements About....THE REFLECTING SKIN (1991)

Yes, that's a boy having intimate pillow talk with a dead fetus.
And yes, that's indicative of how twisted and depressing this
film is.
"Why don't you go play with your friends?"
"They're all dead."

1) I'm warning you right now--this is a brutally unpleasant film that is made all the more unpleasant for its thorough lack of hope. This is a movie that just hammers you with the desperation, guilt and doomed nature of its characters until you are just as devastated as Jeremy Cooper's Seth, screaming for some form of release in a world where none is ever forthcoming. Be prepared.

2) Director Philip Ridley takes full advantage of the stark landscapes of Canada that stand in for Idaho in this film. There are frequent scenes of Seth, sometimes with his friends, running through these seemingly endless wheat fields, their dark clothing popping off the screen. The perpetual brightness of these sequences act in stark contrast to the evil acts that occur in these landscapes.

3) Ridley's script is so tight and well-thought out that while we are horrified by Seth's growing delusion--and later madness--we never doubt for a second why he's believing these things. Ridley makes sure there's a logical explanation for every aspect of Seth's belief system, and the fact that everyone surrounding him is several degrees of insane only allows that system to grow.

4) ....and it's fortunate that Ridley's script is so tightly plotted, because Jeremy Cooper....well, Jeremy Cooper isn't that great an actor. We are horrified by Seth's descent in spite of Cooper, not because of him. That being said, there is a severe disquieting element to the way Cooper's line readings get more and more gleeful as the evidence that supports his theory that his brother's new girlfriend is a vampire grows and grows....which in turn makes Seth's decision at roughly the one hour and twenty minute mark all the more frightening.

You think this is a sweet scene between two people in
love...but then you don't know this film.
5) Even though most people would look toward the very early performance by Viggo Mortensen, the person I think may be the one whose performance holds the film together is Lindsey Duncan. Duncan's Dolphin Blue is as weird as her name implies, and she rises to the task of bringing her to life multiple times. There's a definite sense of her being too far gone to save (and the implication is that her madness, and her husband's death, is connected to the mummified child Seth and his friends find in the barn), but she is at turns pitiful and--in a very odd way--sympathetic and playful with Seth. And while she may think she's bonding with Seth by sharing her memory box filled with her husband's remains, all she's doing is leading him further into insanity.

6) And I guess we need to mention The Black Cadillac. Cruising through the wheat fields, its blackness making it stand out for miles, it's the literal harbinger of death. I almost wish, however, that what Ridley implies pretty much from the first time Jason Wolfe's Driver talks to Seth wasn't made obvious in a later scene. Wolfe is so confident in his predatory friendliness that we didn't need to see his friend jump out of the Cadillac and abduct someone.

In the context of this film, this might as well be a shark...
7) You know what else horrifies me about this film? The abject sense of isolation throughout the film. There seems to be maybe ten people in this area, all living with great spaces between them...and their numbers dwindle so rapidly I wonder if it's some sort of black joke.

8) In a film that seems to dare you to evoke the phrase 'Lynchian,' Robert Koons' Sheriff Ticker is the most Lynchian element. With his metal eyepatch, ruined ear and artificial hand, speaking in a theatrical grit, Ticker seems to come from much further away than 'the town.' And like Dolphin, Ticker has this unfortunate habit of trying to bond with Seth by telling him the most horrific things. And speaking of Sheriff Ticker...

9) is indicative of this film that the only real moment of comic relief, when Seth can't comprehend what Ticker means when he asks if his father touched him, becomes seriously dark and disturbing when the Sheriff demonstrates what he means. It's almost as if Ridley is gleeful in the way he smashes the few rays of hope, twisting them from something light into something repellant.

10) However, I do respect that Ridley gives us a touch of ambiguity to Seth's action that leads to his final breaking point. While there's no doubt that he does what he does out of pure malice for Dolphin, it's unclear if it is an impulsive move or a calculated attempt to destroy what he perceives to be a monster. It doesn't redeem Seth Dove, but it does give us a way of nuancing his terrible nature.

Overall...while it is a relentlessly nasty film with a pitch black view of humanity, the startlingly beautiful compositions and tight plotting make it a eminently watchable movie. It may very well be one of those movies, like Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer, The Bad Lieutenant, and others, that you should experience once but never revisit. It has certainly made me want to view Ridley's other two films.

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