Mysterious Skin

Director: Gregg Araki

U.S.A.| 2004. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 99 min.

Gregg Araki (The Living End, The Doom Generation) delivers his most challenging and arguably most mature film in Mysterious Skin. Adapting Scott Heim’s 1995 novel, the director teases the audience into expecting the kind of bad-boy excursion to the sexual outer limits that built his reputation. But then he gradually layers in psychological and emotional complexity to explore how a childhood experience impacted two boys in profoundly different ways. Confronting without being explicit, the film deftly uses a subjective camera to avoid exploitation and adheres strictly to the youthful protagonists’ perspective, burrowing deeper inside them as the story evolves.
During summer 1981 in Hutchinson, Kansas, 8-year-old Brian experiences a mental blackout. He is unable to recall five hours between sitting on the bench at his Little League game as it starts to rain and coming to with a nosebleed in his cellar at home. That same summer, star player Neil joins the team. He is immediately overcome with desire for the golden-haired coach, who doubles as a de facto babysitter while Neil’s trashy mother (Elisabeth Shue) entertains her boyfriends. As Neil grows into a highly sexual teen, he turns tricks with older men but locks out emotional involvement. A Little League photo leads Brian to Neil, who coaxes him back through his childhood blackout in a potent final scene that deftly weaves together the drama’s disparate strands. Focused tightly on the two main characters, this extended act closes the movie on a resonantly disquieting note that paints an ugly picture of paedophilia without the need for sermonising.

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