The Reflecting Skin, the 1990 debut of director Philip Ridley, was an oddity upon its release. Despite sold-out screenings at the Cannes Film Festival and comparisons to the films of David Lynch, The Reflecting Skin seemed to live in peoples’ memories as a series of images, not a cohesive story. They remembered the exploding frog. The main character of the film, an eight-year-old boy named Seth (Jeremy Cooper), running through impossibly vibrant fields of wheat, an American flag draped across his shoulders. Spears. Sunglasses. Four young men in a shiny black car. Viewers retained these pictures like fragments of waking dreams. Then the film seemed to disappear out of not only general release, but the minds of movie lovers. It stopped being a film and became fodder for random thoughts, memories of a life the rememberer did not live.
Film Movement has released a remastered edition of The Reflecting Skin. Quite simply, it is the most beautiful 2K restoration I have seen this year. It practically throws itself off the screen. One can lose themselves in Ridley’s version of 1950s Idaho. The rust of decaying cars. The yellow grain fields. The jet black hair of the Dove brothers, Seth and Cameron (Viggo Mortensen). They all live in vivid detail, beautiful to gaze upon.
The attention to visuals makes The Reflecting Skin even more of an enigma because, to put it extremely mildly, this movie is fucked up. Poor Seth, living with his OCD addled mother and his quiet father, who may be a pedophile. Seth’s only friends defer to him as their leader. What he says goes, and Seth’s isolation and dark imagination lead them to destruction, warped ideas about religion, and a marked distrust of others in their small rural community. Who are the leather jacket-wearing people in the long black car? Is the blonde woman in the sunglasses really a vampire, as Seth believes her to be?
Nestled within a dreamlike aesthetic, The Reflecting Skin is an enigmatic and disturbing film. A horror tale disguised as a coming-of-age story, it is a masterwork of composition. Every single shot is as beautiful as the day is long. And yet, something rumbles beneath the surface, under the wheat fields and the white clapboard houses, that is dark and unforgettable.
Ridley, who turned affable Brendan Fraser into a dogmatic monster in The Passion of Darkly Noon, doesn’t get as much credit as other directors of his ilk. The Reflecting Skin shows that he is just as talented as Lynch, Cronenberg, Weir, and other filmmakers intent on showing us their artistic versions of the dark side of human nature.
The phrase, “cult classic,” is lobbed around film writing like a fresh tennis ball. While The Reflecting Skin certainly counts as a true example of that branch of film, it is something else. Cult or no, The Reflecting Skin is a classic. It needs to be seen, celebrated, and above all, remembered. It is too important a film for us to forget about again.
The Reflecting Skin is available through Film Movement, Amazon, and wherever fine Blu-rays are sold.