Mysterious Skin (2004)

A high point in Gregg Araki’s inconsistent career that tackles a taboo subject matter whilst balancing its dreamy filmmaking style with raw fervour.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Gregg Araki
2004 | USA | Drama | 105 mins | 1.85:1 | English
R21 (passed clean) for mature theme

Cast: Brady Corbet, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Elisabeth Shue
Plot: A teenage hustler and a young man obsessed with alien abductions cross paths, together discovering a horrible, liberating truth.
Awards: Nom. for Orrizonti Award (Venice); Won MovieZone Award (Rotterdam)
International Sales: Fortissimo Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Mature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse/Niche

Review #1,769

(Reviewed on DVD)

Spoilers: No

In a way, Mysterious Skin might prove to be a good companion piece to Todd Solondz’s masterful Happiness (1998), which tackles a similar taboo subject matter—that of paedophilia.  Yet both have done it in different ways.

Solondz employs a multi-linear narrative style centering on an ensemble of oddball if sometimes perverse characters whose paths cross in beautiful or disturbing ways.  On the other hand, writer-director Gregg Araki prefers a dreamy, even hallucinatory, filmmaking approach to Mysterious Skin that deals with past trauma in a poetic way.

“I like you, Neil. I like you so much.”

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his breakthrough performance (this was years before the likes of 500 Days of Summer (2009) or Inception (2010)), Araki’s work builds on his powerful display as Neil, a male hustler who seems unbothered by his own illicit day-to-day activity, even though he lives clearly in the present.

His opposite number, Brian (played by Brady Corbet, who directed Natalie Portman in Vox Lux last year), is a shy young man with a vague memory of childhood, theorising that he was abducted by aliens in the past.  The film sees Brian trying to locate and seek out Neil, who might know a thing or two about the(ir) mysterious past.

Araki balances his sublime filmmaking style with raw fervour as his lead characters struggle to confront something that has affected their lives, like a tumour in their head that won’t go away.  While Araki’s career has been inconsistent, Mysterious Skin is arguably his peak—and certainly unmissable.

Grade: A-



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