Film review – Mysterious Skin (2004)

Director Gregg Araki, a leading figure of ’90s New Queer Cinema, delivers a rich and moving film with Mysterious Skin. While Araki’s previous films, such as Totally Fucked Up and The Doom Generation, were self-consciously trashy tales of teen angst and chic nihilism, Mysterious Skin explores the difficult, painful and frequently sensationalised issue of child sexual abuse.

Based on Scott Heim’s novel, Mysterious Skin portrays two 18-year-old boys who were abused as children by the same man. Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt from 10 Things I Hate About You) is emotionally vacant and indulges in increasingly dangerous sex with any father figure willing to pay. Brian (Brady Corbet from Thirteen) has no memory of his abuse and instead believes UFOs abducted him. 

Through refusing to stoop to cheap sentiment, grand standing or simplistic moralising Araki explores the constant pain of child sexual abuse with extraordinary dignity and pathos. Close ups and point-of-view shots often places the audience in the extremely upsetting position of the abuse recipient, yet this is an incredibly beautiful film.  Araki’s use of colour and light makes every shot radiant and shimmering, while the ambient soundtrack heightens the haunting theme of lost innocence.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 235, 2005

© Thomas Caldwell, 2005