The Reflecting Skin

British filmmaker Philip Ridley’s The Reflecting Skin hasn’t screened in Toronto since its Canadian premiere at TIFF in 1990.  Given its vibrant formalism and unconventional approach to genre, Ridley’s first feature simply may have been unable to find a broader audience.  However, the film works well for cult film audiences.

A British-Canadian co-production, The Reflecting Skin is a cautionary tale about childhood: a young boy, Seth (Jeremy Cooper), becomes convinced that local English woman (Lindsay Duncan) is a vampire.  Meanwhile, several local young boys are being kidnapped and murdered.  Law enforcement blames Seth’s father, Luke (Duncan Fraser), who has a past history of paedophilia.  Things are complicated once Seth’s brother, Cameron (pre-LOTR Viggo Mortensen), comes home from his military service, only to fall for the alleged vampire, Dolphin.

The Reflecting Skin is broad in its thematic overview of all the frightening things about childhood, which clearly include the possibilities of being kidnapped, raped, and fear of the paranormal.  Ridley’s screenplay is aggressively grim about Seth’s far-from-idyllic childhood, which contrasts to the rather elegantly bright cinematography (veteran cinematography Dick Pope’s camera work here would feel right at home in a pre-Lubezki Terrence Malick film).

The Reflecting Skin may have played well with festival audiences back in the early 90’s, but its intense sincerity and melodramatic tension make it difficult to take very seriously.  Moments such as when Seth finds an abandoned foetus and becomes convinced that it is the angel of his deceased friend engender more perplexed laughs than anything.  It may play better with audiences familiar with films like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.

Toronto’s The Royal Cinema will be screening a 2K restoration of The Reflecting Skin from February 26 to March 9 before the film’s long-awaited DVD release on March 15.  Cult film fanatics will most likely enjoy this unusual genre film no matter what size of screen they view it on.


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