Saturday, October 3, 2009

Halloween Movie # 26: The Reflecting Skin

Sometimes terrible things happen...

...quite naturally

A black screen.

A sound. Dark, low. Unknown.

The screen explodes into a field of color. Yellow and white.

As far as the eye can see, rows upon rows of amber waving grain.

The deep and low plucking of what sounds like a thousand violins as a small boy with impossibly black hair and translucent skin runs through the middle of the grain.

Something is coming. You can feel it. Something is in the air.


Or such is how I imagine the script for the opening of Philip Ridley's might read.

In 1990, Philp Ridley, a well-known U.K. based novelist and playwright, wrote and directed a film called The Reflecting Skin. It came out the same year as another movie he wrote, The Krays. The Krays was a hit in the U.K. and abroad.

No one saw The Reflecting Skin. They should have. If they would have, they would have seen the work of an artist who likes to dip his toe in a world of fantasy and myth that is both horrifying and beautiful.

Check out the trailer:

The Reflecting Skin is the story of a young boy named Seth Dove. It is his journey into a fantasy world of dark childhood dreams and desires. The plot is about Seth's brother (played by a very, very young Viggo Mortensen) coming back from the war, his relationship to his disturbed parents and the mystery behind a demonic black car filled with darkly clothed men as it races along the country landscape, searching for something better let unsaid.

Trying to describe the story points of The Reflecting Skin is like trying to describe the story points of Blue Velvet. I could tell you Blue Velvet is a detective story about a man finding out who kidnapped a distraught woman's child and how a severed ear plays a part in the mystery...but as we all know, the point of Blue Velvet is not so much if the bad guy is caught in the end as it is the texture of the path along the way to finding out who the killer is.

The same principal is at play in The Reflecting Skin. Yes, we do want to know who the men in the black car are. Yes, we do want to know what will happen to Seth Dove and the strange woman he meets in her house in middle of a field is all about.

Is she a vampire? Is she simply a lonely woman? Is his imagination overactive? Or do demons live among us and he is simply seeing them when the rest of us are too busy or blind to see?

We get answer to all of these 'story' questions, but more than that, we get a feeling and a sense of how Seth Dove experiences them...this is a movie so rich in texture and sensual detail it's nearly impossible for me to explain why it's so good, except to say you must see it.

The score by composer Nick Bic√Ęt is sweeping and terribly haunting. The cinematography by Dick Pope, one of the all time greats (the nearly perfect film Naked, the under appreciated Mountains of the Moon, Dark City, The Secret Garden), feels as if it's in 3D. It's rich and textured and absolutely in sync with the emotion and feeling of each scene. Watch how he frames each shot. Nothing is out of place, nothing is happenstance.

As with all great movies, there is absolutely not visual or narrative fat to this movie. It's as lean and mean as movies get.

I'll bet you dollars to donuts Dick Pope and Philip Ridley spent days looking at the work of Andrew Wyeth before they started to map out the look of the film. The entire feeling of the film can be summed up in this famous image:

And this:Lindsay Duncan is terrifyingly good in the role of Dolphin Blue. Yes, Dolphin Blue. Look at those names - Seth Dove and Dolphin Blue. Her scenes with the boy are spellbinding. You can't turn away from them. She is what a a famous writer once told me actor Cherry Jones is like. She is a 'vessel', meaning, she is so pure in her acting an entire world seems to emerge from her. Her acting is so organic it doesn't ever feel as if she is acting as channelling some unknown force.

Jeremy Cooper, the boy in the lead, did hardly any film after this one. It's no wonder. How do you follow this up? Sheila Moore as Seth's mother scares the shit out of me. Just wait until you see the water scene. Dear God.

But the real star of the movie is the writing. Kill me now. The texture to the words, the dips and falls in the narrative, the metaphors and subtle uses of jargon and language - the monologues are as good as any put on film, particularly the ones from Ms. Duncan.

This is one of those horror movies which is meant to be felt. God bless him, Philp Ridley did write The Krays and it is very, very good but it is nothing compared to the force of The Reflecting Skin.

This is horror and suspense movie making at it's finest.

Watch out for black cars on the road.

You never know who is inside.

Until next time...

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely agree: A tragically underappreciated gem. Why is this film not available on R1 DVD?