Review: Mysterious Skin (2004)

Lorna Webb's film review of Mysterious Skin. Released in 2004 and directed by Gregg Araki

2004 gay drama directed by Gregg Araki, Mysterious Skin is brusque yet elegant as it explores and challenges the self journey of its characters.

Araki is a director that loves to disturb and shock audiences, he focuses a lot of his work on the more disturbing elements of teenage life and is not subtle in the process. This is relevant in his previous films, such as Totally F**ked Up, a 1993 comedy romance that portrays the miserable lives of a group of homosexual teenagers.

Neil McCormick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a problematic teenager with a disturbing past. He turns to gay prostitution as a result of being sexually abused by his baseball coach at a young age.

The film’s symbolism is almost elegant in its dream-like structure. The main concept is based on character emotions, as they embark on a lonely self journey in order to come to terms with their secret past.

Brian (Brady Corbet), a certified dork, insists that he was abducted by aliens. This slightly comical theory is a result of being sexually abused by Coach. As he begins to discover the truth of his unfortunate past, he shares the once lonely experience with Neil as they attempt to remove the skeletons in their closets in order to fix themselves.

There is a certain lack of connection in the film. Araki is letting the audience watch the events unfold through a frosty window, but he has locked the door. Surprisingly, this doesn’t make the film distant; it just reminds us that we are an audience – we have no active role in the characters lives, therefore all we can do is sympathise.

The film’s risky themes (pedophilia, sexuality and prostitution), are not underlying, what you see is what you get. Araki has never been a director that dabbles in the unspeakable, he is blunt and certainly not submissive – just the way we like him.

Based on Scott Heim’s novel, Araki adapted the story and personalised it sensationally. Many scenes are uncomfortable to watch, the exploitation is executed well and Araki succeeds in making his audience fidget in disgust at the psychological elements.

The performances in the film are not incredibly strong, but that doesn’t seem to matter considering Araki’s intentions were based on shock factor and risk taking.With a melancholy soundtrack, the film is dangerous but doesn’t shock too much. Mysterious Skin pulls the audience in, shakes them around and lets them walk away with the unwanted memories, making the film memorable and unique.

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