Publicity Stills of "Mysterious Skin"
(Courtesy from Cathay-Keris Films)

Genre: Drama
Director: Gregg Araki
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zane Huett, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Chase Ellison, Lisa Long, Michelle Trachtenberg, Rachael Nastassja Kraft, Brady Corbet, Elisabeth Shue
RunTime: 1 hr 39 mins
Released By: Cathay-keris Films
Rating: R21(Mature Theme)

Released Date: 21 July 2005


When he was eight, Brian Lackey woke up in the crawlspace beneath his house with his nose bleeding, having no idea how he got there. After that, his life is different he is afraid of the dark, wets the bed and is plagued by terrible nightmares. Now 18, Brian believes that he was abducted by aliens.

Neil McCormick is the ultimate beautiful outsider, the boy everyone loves from afar but is afraid of when they get too close. Also 18, Neil longs for the relationship he had with his baseball coach when he was eight years old.

Neil's search for what he thinks is love leads him to New York City. Brian's search for what happened to him leads him to Neil. Together they come to realize that the events that shaped them most were not what they seemed to be.

Based on the widely acclaimed novel by Scott Heim, MYSTERIOUS SKIN puts us inside the hearts and minds of two very different boys living very different lives who maybe aren't as different as they first appear.

Movie Review:

Mysterious Skin is a difficult film to grapple with. Not that it is tough to understand, but because it is extremely provocative, and might not sit well with some of the audience despite its R21 rating. It could be that it possibly is the first film screened here to focus on its niche theme.

Based upon a book by Scott Heim, the film starts off innocently, chronicling 10 years of 2 guys life when they were kids. Both are members of the same Little League baseball team, but the development of their lives are in stark contrast to each other.

Brian (Brady Corbet) believes he was abducted by aliens when he was 8 years old. He can't account for certain periods at that age when his memory is blanked, and suffers from mysterious blackouts and nosebleeds. Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was a victim of child sexual abuse. His Little League baseball coach turned out to be a pedophile, who exposed Neil to his first sexual encounter at age 8.

Reinforcing Brian's belief on his aliens theory was the actual witnessing of a UFO takeoff with his
family, from the roof of their home. Also, the television documentary "World of Mystery" had
interviews with abduction survivors recounting their harrowing experience with aliens, which seemed in tandem with his own strange nightmares. He strives to seek the truth of his probable encounters by engaging in an exchange of letters, and meeting up with one of the documentary interviewees, much to his mother's discontent.

Neil's perception of sex and sexual preference was probably skewed after his enjoying his coach's attention and sexual acts. He grows up to prefer gay sex and lives an underachieving drifter's life of sex and drugs. He seeks out men and sells his body to make money, boasting to his friends that he probably slept with all the men in town, twice over.

However, Brian's investigations into his dreams brings him back to the Little League days, and to Neil. However, Neil has gone to New York, where his escapades actually become more dangerous with each encounter. While I felt the film started to focus on Neil and this area of gay sex, it doesn't preach nor attempts to do so, giving only cursory mention of condoms and risk of disease. Rather, one might ponder upon the hypothesis if one's orientation is actually
determined biologically from birth, or actually can change as a direct result of influence at a very
impressionable age.

The film builds up to the inevitable meeting of the two lead characters, where Neil is actually the final puzzle to piece together and account for the faithful disappearance of Brian. While the audience might figure out this portion midway through the film, what made an impact was the way it was delivered - suggesting yet not showing, verbal and not visual. Just when you thought you knew all the sleazy details, we're let in on a "5-dollar game", which in my opinion, could be a shocker to some.

The narrative is split between the lives of the lead characters and by timeline, but I felt a bit let down by some unfulfilled subplots, which probably could have been explained in the book. Supporting the two leads are a host of characters like Avalyn, a survivor of alien abduction, Neil's friends Eric and Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Brian's mother who provides some much needed comic relief from the film's serious nature.

At times, this film totters the thin line of smut, whilst not showing everything on screen, simulated sexual acts of sodomy and fellatio might not be comforting to those with weak stomachs for something seldom shown on screen in Singapore. The "Mature Theme" R21 rating is aptly given for Mysterious Skin.

Movie Rating:

Review by Stefan Shih


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