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USA 2004
Directed by
Greg Araki
91 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
David Michael Brown
4.5 stars

Mysterious Skin

Synopsis: Neil will never forget his first love; a bit worrying as it was his baseball coach when he was nine years old. Brian on the other hand isn't sure what he can remember. He dreams of an encounter with aliens which left him unconscious with a bloody nose after a five-hour blackout. Now in his teens Brian is desperately trying to figure out what happened to him on that fateful night and soon realises that he must find his old school mate Neil, now hustling for a living, to discover the shocking truth that has haunted his life.

Those familiar with the work of Greg Araki will know what to expect. The Doom Generation was a wild road movie full of graphic sex, cheesy gore and a career-defining performance by Rose McGowen. Nowhere introduced the director's obsession with aliens and vaporized Christina Applegate and Traci Lord in the process. Mysterious Skin is the director's most assured work to date, it retains the explicit sexual drive that runs through his work but adds an unexpected maturity to the proceedings.

Mysterious Skin is beautifully crafted, light years beyond his early work like Totally F***ed Up. Every scene looks perfect and the uninhibited performances are breathtaking. The leads are astounding; those who recognize Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet from Third Rock From the Sun and Thunderbirds respectively will be amazed. The supporting cast also do wonders, Elizabeth Shue as Neil's mother gives one of her finest performances since Leaving Las Vegas and Michelle Tractenberg, the little sister in Buffy The Vampire Slayers, is all grown up as Neil's best friend, Wendy.

The film shows the boys' early lives using their adult voices, a technique that makes the shocking storyline even more disturbing. No matter how it was decided to show the scenes of the baseball coach seducing the 9 year old Neil with Atari's Asteroids and Kellogg's cereals, it was going to be squirm-inducing and the film ranks as possibly the most disturbing film I have watched since the similarly themed Happiness. Like Todd Solondz's film, Mysterious Skin handles one of cinemas taboos with pitch-black humour and is an incredibly brave piece of cinema.

A word of warning to the squeamish, the film has some particularly unpleasant scenes - a childhood prank with fireworks, a trip to Brighton Beach and the film's solemn finale come to mind. Mysterious Skin can justifiably described as bravura filmmaking and handles its controversial subject matter in a startling fashion. It's the flipside to the recent The Woodsman and hopefully marks a move towards confronting and challenging cinema that isn't afraid to pull any punches.




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