THE REFLECTING SKIN (1990) – The Dungeon Review!

I am officially neck-deep in the 90s! If I am going to be ready for my 90s feature in January it must be done! Surprisingly I haven’t run into one film I have hated yet; admittedly I am starting with films that actually appeal to me first. I will start wading through the dregs on the weekend. The Reflecting Skin is just teetering on the edge of horror. It certainly explores some horrifying ideas but it leans heavier towards the drama. The nightmare childhood of a boy living in a rural landscape during the 1950s is dark, depressing, strange and rather unique. Some minor spoilers ahead.

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Seth Dove is a nine year old boy living in a small rural community in the 1950s. His browbeaten father Luke runs a small gas station on their property and barely speaks. His angry, depressed and abusive mother Ruth despises the smell of gasoline and spends considerable time berating her husband about it. His brother Cameron has been away at war on “the pretty islands” as Seth’s mother likes to call them, and will soon be coming home. Seth spends his days hanging out with his two friends lingering about the endless fields. The trio pull a cruel prank on Seth’s widow neighbour Dolphin Blue; when his mother catches wind of it, she forces Seth to go apologize to the woman. His father’s affection for pulp fiction puts the idea in Seth’s head that Dolphin is a vampire. This is followed by the disappearance of one of Seth’s chums and a dark family secret is revealed which results in tragedy. His brother arrives soon after and meets and falls in love with Dolphin to Seth’s dismay. Meanwhile a black Cadillac full of murdering perverts are driving around the small town.

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The Reflecting Skin’s endless fields and massive sky add nicely to the film’s feeling of desolation. The Reflecting Skin is a UK film about American’s that was filmed in Alberta Canada. If they really wanted desolation they should have filmed in Saskatchewan. Having driven across Canada twice now I don’t think there is a duller stretch of driving than the great flat plains of Saskatchewan. In any case, the film really is beautiful and well made and its excellent score hits all the right notes.

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There are some very strange trippy snippets that give The Reflecting Skin a dream like feel. There are weirdly random moments like Seth walking past two women chirping carrying a dead bird. Seth seems to immerse himself more deeply in fantasy as the film wears on. I won’t explain the hows and whys but a dead fetus becomes Seth’s confidant. There isn’t much in the way of graphic violence but what they include is very effective and at times disturbing. I really do not care for animal violence and The Reflecting Skin opens with a pretty nasty frog death. I don’t want to give away all the secrets but there is a suicide in the film that is just brutal! It is still hovering in my mind days after watching it. The Reflecting Skin has a very relaxed pace and leisurely unleashes a series of vignettes; one more bleak than the other. I found The Reflecting Skin’s mix of strange, melancholy and ugliness compelling.

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The Reflecting Skin is very dark and is one of the dreariest films I have seen in a while. It is so terribly hopeless and full of characters you would hardly call likable. Seth is an abused child and I had empathy for him, but it wasn’t always easy. Seth is cruel, destructive and frustrating at various points in the story. Seth is only nine years old and by the end of the film he sees more trauma than most people see in a lifetime. Cameron Dove has just returned from his station in Japan and carries with him a picture of a Japanese baby. Due to fallout from the bombings the baby’s skin took on a reflective quality hence the film’s title. It is clear that the experience has affected Cameron both mentally and psychically. Seth’s mother Ruth is an intimidating, frightening and intense woman. The dark family secret she carries with her is no doubt a significant contributor to her bitterness. Seth’s father Luke is a sad man who tries desperately to lose himself in pulp fiction; much like Seth, fantasy is more comforting to him than reality. It can be said that he is also an abused member of this household. There is an eccentric sheriff called Ticker with a Prosthetic hand, a chewed up ear and one eye. Sheriff Ticker’s injuries are on account of animal attacks; the drawback of being the Sheriff of a tiny town where not much happens. Sheriff Ticker finally gets himself a body count and he is going to solve these crimes gosh darn it!

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I found The Reflecting Skin a hypnotic watch and its slow grind added to that vibe. The Reflecting Skin was a fascination and its perfect slap you in the face finale could not have been better. Be warned that The Reflecting Skin is not exactly a horror film, or at least it is very thin on horror elements and high on drama. I have no idea how this film escaped my radar for so many years! The Reflecting Skin is a beautifully filmed, unique, powerful, strange, sad, hopeless, merciless, ugly slow grind and comes highly recommended!

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Philip Ridley

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Cooper, Sheila Moore, Duncan Fraser, David Longworth, Robert Koons, David Bloom, Evan Hall, Codie Lucas Wilbee, Sherry Bie, Jason Wolff

9 Responses to “THE REFLECTING SKIN (1990) – The Dungeon Review!”

  1. I love this movie! God bless cable, back in the days when it would carry offbeat stuff like this. The kids in the car struck me as a very Tennessee Williams kind of touch.

    • Great review! I’ve had a copy of this film on VHS since it came out; I luckily ran across a review of it in Rolling Stone & decided it was a must-see. Wonderful unique movie with an unsettling tone. I’ve recommended it to friends for years now but it was always hard to find, & I’m glad to see it’s finally on DVD.

      • Thanks Will! This film is really special and unique. I have a 90s feature in January and honestly, I was not expecting to find many gems in the decade. Sure there is Dead Alive, Cemetery Man, Jacob’s Ladder and a handful of others but when I think of the 90s I do not think good horror. Hopefully there are more treasure along the way!

    • Ah yes, the days when cable was worth having. Good call on the Tennessee Williams!

  2. As much as I slam the decade,this film shows the 1990’s gave us some exceptional movies. A shame so few were outright horror films,but The Reflecting Skin certain is grim stuff. I actually got to see this on the big screen,and was mesmerized throughout,and I particularly love Robert Koons,who made very few films,as Sheriff Ticker. Excellent review,Goregirl!

    • Appears as though the vhs for The Reflecting Skin was pretty tough to find, I guess that is why I had never seen it. I picked up the DVD new for next to nothing! What a gem! It’s a funny thing!! 1990 is actually a pretty great year!! I have 17 films shortlisted for my top 10 and I still have 7 more to see. Uh…1991 however…PU!!

  3. Victor De Leon Says:

    I’ve never seen this movie. Thanks for the head’s up. I am looking forward to more of your 90’s movie reviews especially Dead Alive and Jacob’s Ladder. Good review! Thanks.

  4. […] The Reflecting Skin is about a nine year old boy named Seth Dove and his nightmarish life living in a small rural community in the 1950s. The film is really just teetering on the edge of horror. Although it explores some horrifying ideas it leans heavier towards the drama. The Reflecting Skin is beautifully filmed with its endless fields and massive sky that adds so very nicely to the film’s feeling of desolation. It has a relaxed pace and leisurely unleashes a series of vignettes; one more bleak than the other. Its mix of strange, melancholy and ugliness was compelling. There are some peculiar trippy snippets that give The Reflecting Skin a dream like feel; like Seth walking past two women chirping carrying a dead bird. Seth seems to immerse himself more deeply in fantasy as the film wears on. There isn’t much in the way of graphic violence but what they include is very effective and at times disturbing. The Reflecting Skin is a hypnotic watch and its slow grind added to that vibe. I loved its perfect slap you in the face finale! The Reflecting Skin is beautifully filmed, unique, powerful, strange, sad, hopeless and merciless. To read the full review click here. […]

  5. tomschronicles Says:

    Very good review! I saw this movie back in the early ’90’s. It was very well done, and it really creeped the hell out of me! More than almost any other film. I still think of it sometimes, but always with a shudder.

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