Sunday, February 3, 2013

THE REFLECTING SKIN (1990) movie review

Reflecting Skin, The (1990) d. Ridley, Philip (UK)

A cerebral, challenging film that examines the bleak and beautiful nightmare of childhood. Award-winning playwright/author/painter Philip Ridley envisions the American Midwest of the '50s as a wasteland devoid of moral compasses and populated by bizarre characters. Here, the monsters are everywhere but where we look for them, the beauty of the landscape masking the darkness that lurks beneath.

Jeremy Cooper stars as the nine-year old protagonist who possesses a child’s inherently dark-yet-innocent sadistic streak (one of the opening images is of he and his chums inflating and exploding an unfortunate frog). Suspecting Lindsay Duncan's strange isolated foreign widow on the hill to be a vampire (always dressed in black, avoids the sun, despises her reflection), Cooper is horrified when his war-rattled brother (Viggo Mortensen) begins to keep company with her. Meanwhile, a sinister black Cadillac cruises the tranquil country roads, and children begin to disappear.

Dick Pope’s staggering sepia-toned cinematography provides a dreamlike feel to the film, depicting a hollow, lifeless world drained of its rich colors. A world that is, in a word, ill. Nick Bic√Ęt’s haunting, near-operatic choral-and-strings score augments the eerie mood. Symbolism runs rampant throughout a multitude of highly suspenseful scenes, with Ridley painting an oppressive and unpleasant Gothic atmosphere so thick it sticks in the throat. Told with a terrifying child’s logic, this is not an easy film to sit through, and certainly not for those in the mood for mindless fun.

Although the final sequence borders on the melodramatic, it bravely sums up the isolation and hopelessness that has gone before. Highly recommended for discerning viewers.


  1. I still haven't gotten around to watching it, but you sure are selling it in spades with the shot of that gorgeous '56 Fleetwood.

    1. I'm forever grateful for the widescreen version, good sir. It's simply criminal that Miramax should issue a film this visually aware in a cropped fullscreen bare bones issue. It deserved better.