The Reflecting Skin

1990 drama

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A young boy living in the middle of grain becomes convinced that his neighbor, who his returning soldier brother strikes up a relationship with, is a vampire as the tiny community deals with their children being murdered. His dad smells gassy.

There were certainly elements I liked to this horror-filled non-horror movie. It was a mix of a more rural David Lynch, the Polish brothers, and Gilliam's Tideland, though it ended up not being as effective as any of those. For me, this was a lot of provocative images or narrative tidbits that ultimately failed to add up to anything cohesive. The young protagonist talks to a dead fetus he believes is an angel. That's sort of interesting. The maybe-vampiric neighbor lady seems to have an obsession with decaying or deterioration. That's sort of interesting. The mysterious black car with likely dangerous thugs keeps popping in from nowhere, some sort of symbol of death. That's sort of interesting. The local sheriff has been attacked by animals on three occasions. That's sort of interesting. But a whole bunch of interesting elements slapped together into something that never fully congeals won't automatically make a movie any good.

The best thing about this movie is its characters. Not a single one of them is normal. Viggo Mortensen, way before he was Hobbiting around, might be the most normal, but he seems haunted by past somethings only hinted at. And he seems to know that he clashes with his surroundings and is almost tortured by that. A trio of kids pretty much act like a trio of kids in a rural area would although I would hope rampant frog explosion isn't really a part of communities like this. The performances of those prepubescent boys, as you'd probably expect, are a little all over the place, at times annoyingly. The protagonist's parents are both wacky in completely different ways, the neighbor lady is completely off, there's a guy who dresses like a Puritan, and the aforementioned sheriff is like a character who walked off a David Lynch set, got lost, and wandered into this movie.

Brother: "Why don't you go play with your friends?"
Kid: "They're all dead."

The tagline for this movie is "Sometimes terrible things happen quite naturally." The problem for me is that nothing felt natural. There are little absurd moments that did make me laugh, and overall, I'm glad I watched this. And it's frustrating because there's some of that ugly beauty that I'm usually attracted to in movies like this. It was just difficult to connect with much that was happening, and I couldn't figure out what it was all supposed to add up to, right down to the ludicrous screamy ending.

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