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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Mysterious Skin (2004)


“Alien life-forms” are usually my safe words as well.

Brian (Brady Corbet) is a shy introvert, obsessed by his own possible UFO abduction, while Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a cruel and icy beauty who sexualises his every encounter. As each of them follows their own very different journey, they seek to come to terms with the incident that has scarred their current lives and, to their surprise, unites them, even when they least expect it.

With material like this, there’s a part of me that knows how disturbing it is and wants to say what it’s all about to warn those out there, but there’s also a part of me that knows that’s wrong. See, I’m a critic, but also a lover of movies and I know that the one key element to enjoying a movie is being automatically surprised, just as soon as you walk into something. That’s why I’m going to tip-toe around the big surprise this movie has to offer as much, and as well as I can.

So, for those who haven’t seen this movie yet, don’t worry, consider yourself free from spoiler-harm.

As for those who have seen the movie and are reading this, see how close I come to spilling the beans. I sure hope not.

My type of crowd. Except with more earrings.

My type of crowd. Except with more piercings.

Anyway, what really got to me the most about this flick, wasn’t just how director Gregg Araki handled this material, but how he filmed the whole thing. I’ve never seen anything else that this dude has done in his whole career, but he doesn’t seem like a guy I would like by just how unprofessional everything looks. The first 20 minutes where we are introduced to our character’s first 15 years of living is pretty neat and filmed with a very fast-paced direction that not only made me feel like I was in for something different, but also in for something that was going to be taking risks, as it should. Problem is, the fast-paced direction starts to leave the film and all of the quick-editing little tricks Araki utilizes here and there, soon starts to become a bit choppy where some scenes feel like they’re too rushed, and others just feel like they haven’t gone on long enough. Sometimes it’s better to actually focus on a plot-structure and let certain scenes just play out like they’re supposed to.

Now, to where this story effed up and oh, did it eff up alright. Usually when you have a tough subject like the one they deal with here, you, the director, have to show it in a way that doesn’t seem grotesque, but also doesn’t sugarcoat anything either. You just have to get it right slap dab in the middle and the problem is that Araki can’t seem to get there. Instead, it seems like this guy was trying to have his cake and eat it too, where he would show many dirty scenes with a people sexually mortifying one another, and then, in the next scene, change it all up by trying to tug at our heart-strings with a story that doesn’t feel so fully-developed. Basically, any type of movie where you have two men performing in a sexual act, people will feel uncomfortable, but it’s up to you as a director to not try and throw it in our eyes and make us feel like we need to leave the theater. Araki seems like he just wanted to shove a whole bunch of explicit sex scenes that would capture the people’s eyes, but then also give them something that may make them cry. For me, it didn’t work and it’s just another reason why I feel like this film really needed to be checked out before it went off and gotten released.

Also, where the hell was the message of this movie? In the first ten minutes or so of the movie, I got what this film was trying to say and even though the characters didn’t, it just seemed unneeded like all of the hour and 40 minutes was wasted. Though there’s a lot of frank-talk about sexuality and how the smallest change in a person’s cycle can have the biggest affect on them when they’re older, without them ever knowing it, I didn’t really feel like Araki got to that point. Instead, it was almost as if he got lost in all of the teens performing in naughty acts of sex, drugs, and violence. Almost as if he was trying to pull-off a Larry Clarke movie, but a bit tamer.

Notice how I used the term “a bit”.

This kid's supposed to be a geek? You don't say?

This kid’s supposed to be a geek? You don’t say?

Despite the problems I had with Gregg Araki’s student film-like direction, the performances of this film are what really saved me. Brady Corbet is solid as this young nerd Brian who believes that he was abducted by aliens when he was a little kid, but sooner or later, in a predictable fashion, we start to find out that it’s all one big cover-up in his head for something far more serious and disturbing. This story may not play-out as interesting as I may make it sound, but it still kept me glued to the screen because Corbet seems to play that innocent, dorky role very well, even though it’s obvious that this kid is a whole lot younger than the film makes him out to be.

But the real performance to watch for in this movie, and actually the only real reason to see this movie in the first place is the performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Neil McCormick. JGL has been, for a very long time now, a big up-and-comer in film and has proved role-after-role that he can do whatever he pleases and make the best of it. This was one of those early performances that showed he had the guts to tackle a role as emotionally-daring as this one where he pretty much goes around, bangin’ dudes for money, and showing no remorse over it whatsoever. JGL makes this whole character work just by being the risk-taker his character seems to be and a couple of scenes show that he’s more than just a kid who gets paid for getting frisky with dudes; in the end, he’s a kid that still has problems deep down inside of his mind all because of a childhood happening that scarred his life forever. It was great to watch JGL here and even though it’s by far, not his best performance ever, it’s one of the first ones that showed he had what it took to be a dramatic heavy-weight. Even if the rest of the film can’t really seem to keep up with him.

Shame on you, Gregg Araki. Shame on you.

Consensus: Disturbing and hard-to-watch as it may be, Mysterious Skin still feels like it’s not saying much about these ugly happenings, to justify exactly why we have to see so much of them in the first place, although it does give us plenty of reason to watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet.

5 /10 =Rental!!

Supposed to be his mom, folks! His mom!

Supposed to be his mom, folks! His mom!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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6 responses to “Mysterious Skin (2004)

  1. ninvoid99 October 21, 2014 at 3:14 am

    This is for me, Gregg Araki’s best film as it’s the one that was very dangerous but also had this very engrossing story about childhood trauma and two kids in different paths in their exploration to find themselves.

  2. Richard White October 21, 2014 at 6:34 am

    I haven’t seen this for a few years now but I recall finding it devastatingly powerful. I admired it’s courage to frankly examine a sensitive topic and it’s long lasting effects without skirting around the issue the way other movies do. It’s disturbing, but nessesarily so. I’ve seen nearly all of Gregg Araki’s films and agree with the above poster that this is by far the best, certainly surprised you found his direction amateurish here as it’s his most mature film in my eyes. I thought the atmosphere he created and his use of music was very good. Agree with you about Joseph Gordon-Levitt though, this was the film that made me start paying attention to him as an actor.

  3. emmakwall October 21, 2014 at 9:09 am

    I bought this on DVD years ago and tried watching it but it upset me too much. I couldn’t finish it! It’s funny, I actually forgot this film existed if you know what I mean? It was so long ago. I actually recognised the kid in the picture first, I thought ‘I know I’ve seen him before’ then it all clicked. I remember a scene with cereal falling on his head?

  4. motionpicturemoments October 21, 2014 at 10:52 am

    If you in any way though the film is disturbing, read the book. Heim is amazing but the subject is heartbraking. In regards Araki, I’m really looking forward to seeing his new flick White Bird in a Blizzard.

  5. Wendell October 21, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    I’m another big fan of this movie for the reasons given by the above posters. I also think this might be JGL’s best performance. He’s been great in lots of things, but he floored me here. Still, great review. Everyone can’t love everything.

  6. Brittani October 21, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    I love this film, it’s a tough watch, but it’s just so well done in my opinion. It’s my favorite of Araki’s films and JGL’s performance is one of his best. I think it took a lot of balls for Araki to make this film in the first place, then to get unfairly slapped with the NC-17 rating like he did. I feel like if it would’ve gotten an R, it would’ve been bigger.

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