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Brandon Judell

Mysterious Skin

By Brandon Judell

According to The Hours's Michael Cunningham, Scott Heim "is a serious writer who's unafraid to swim in the darkest waters." The same could be argued for director Gregg Araki.

From The Living End (1992)) to Totally F****ed Up (1993) to The Doom Generation (1995), Araki has always embraced subject matter that was outré. HIV-positive gay lovers who behave like Bonnie and Clyde; uncompromisingly trendy, drug-popping teenyboppers who behave as if they own the world; and bisexual threesomes whose actions inspire a castration are just several of the groups populating his cinema.

Now, for the first time, not working from a screenplay that was (mal)formed from his own brain cells, Araki has adapted Heim's novel, Mysterious Skin, and one could hardly think of a better match. Who else wouldn't flinch from Heim's subject matter?

Locale: Kansas. Era: The seventies. Two boys, aged 8, are on the same Little League team when they endure two separate life-changing events.

Brian (George Webster) wakes up in his basement one evening with a nosebleed. Suddenly, he realizes the last five hours of his life have disappeared without a peep. The answer is sort of clear to him. Aliens in a flying saucer kidnapped him.

Meanwhile, fatherless Neil (Chase Ellison), who's being reared by a slut of a mother (Elisabeth Shue), winds up being seduced by his baseball coach, an affair that lasts a summer.

Speed ahead a few years: Charlie (Brady Corbet) is now a nerd with sci-fi dreams, and Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a small-town gay hustler who brags he's had almost every closeted, local resident twice.

So how are the lads' past united? Is their disconcerting, ruinous present salvageable? Will any one ever expiate for the crimes committed against these lost souls?

You'll care to know the answers thanks to the brilliant, searing performance by Levitt, an equally commendable turn by Corbet, and a flawless backup cast. Mysterious Skin is certainly never less than blistering.

Araki/Heim here take on child abuse, plus religion, parenting, and a few other faltering institutions with a sledgehammer. The image of a "shattered kaleidoscope" is mentioned. That's the perfect representation for this America. [Judell]

(Mysterious Skin gets a NYC preem @ the 4th Annual Tribeca film festival!)

Director/Screenwriter/Producer/Editor: Greg Araki
Producers: May Jane Skalski, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte,
Original Music Composers: Harold Budd, Robin Guthrie
Cast: Brady Corbet, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michelle Trachtenberg, Elisabeth Shue Richard Riehle, Chase Ellison, George Webster, Rachael Kraft, Lisa Long, Chris Mulkey

Copyright © Brandon Judell 2005


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