August 13, 2019 The Reflecting Skin (Movie Review)
To see the forest through the trees is a trait that many children lack at an early age; comprehension fails in the same places the imagination runs amok to fill in the blank spaces. In Philip Ridley’s 1990 debut film The Reflecting Skin, distrust and questioning rule the small town where the imaginative, naive Seth Dove, played by Jeremy Cooper (The Gingerbread Man 1998, Dangerous Crosswinds 2005), lives and plays with his closest friends. The visceral, twisted American nightmare that exists in The Reflecting Skin is unrelenting and all too real, proving that real monsters walk among everyone in masks that reflect the bitter truth.
Now available for the first time on Blu-ray in the USA on Tuesday, August 13th, through Film Movement Classic, The Reflecting Skin is brought to viewers with a bounty of extras that includes a 40-plus minute documentary, “Angels & Atom Bombs: The Making of The Reflecting Skin;” commentary with Writer/Director Philip Ridley; as well as a booklet with introduction by Ridley and a new essay by Travis Crawford along with Heather Hyche.
For those who have not seen the film, it became an instant cult classic when it premiered to sold out screenings at Cannes in 1990. The story follows a young boy who walks through a wheat field the color of sunshine, toting around an extraordinarily large frog. He is approached by his two friends whom are amazed at the sight of the gargantuan creature. A woman dressed in black appears just over the hill, they have been waiting for her and set their trap with the amphibian, inflating it. When she draws close to the animal, one of the boys launches a rock at it, causing it to explode in a torrent of blood and guts over her face and the dusty ground. It’s shocking, somewhat unprecedented, but morbidly laughable.
Seth’s mother, played by Sheila Moore (It 1990, The Ray Bradbury Theatre: The Martian 1992), is neurotic, obsessed with removing the scent of gasoline from her home in time for the return of her son Cameron, portrayed by Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King 2003, Green Book 2018), from war. The father is, at best, cold to the entire situation and his brief interaction with his son is limited to a discussion about the vampire book he reads and water. The family farm is near-barren of any livestock, instead riddled with junk. A dark, new car rolls in and Seth is told to gas up the car, the driver of which seems to prefer young boys to bide his touch.
When his mother finds out about the hell he has raised, she forces him to apologize to English woman Dolphin Blue, played by Lindsay Duncan (About Time 2013, Birdman 2014), he pranked. Seth goes to her house and she reveals the state of her personal affairs – a dead husband, old age, and loneliness easily summarized by her statement of ‘”sometimes terrible things come quite naturally.” She easily disturbs the young boy who is already put off by her, so he dashes from the house, convinced that she is a vampire. When his friend Eben goes missing Dolphin is suspect in his mind, though in everyone else’s it is Seth’s secretive father.
The boys are destructive without fail or conscience, but still somehow endearing. Seth is especially ignorant to even the simplest of realities, to the point it preturbs all common sense. There is no hiding the details: the characters, even where children are concerned, revel in the horrifying bits. Between intense discomfort and deep inquiry, some scenes are oddly funny. Deep-seeded hatred, especially for those closest, runs deep alongside bigotry and fear, which is the sinew for many of the relationships in the film. That is why Cryptic Rock gives the The Reflecting Skin 4 out of 5 stars as it finds new life on Blu-ray.