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Film review: Reflecting Skin, The

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 18 1992 12:00 a.m. MST

One thing's for sure. Filmmaker Philip Ridley has been watching too many David Lynch movies. "The Reflecting Skin" is like "Twin Peaks" from a child's point of view — a coming-of-age summer of hell amid golden wheatfields from an Andrew Wyeth painting.

Described in the press kit by Ridley as a child's nightmare imagination, the film is far too literal to offer much metaphorical insight, observing a few weeks in the life of 8-year-old Seth Dove (Jeremy Cooper), who is living with his parents somewhere in the American Midwest just after World War II.

His mother is a frustrated, babbling shrew who obsessively cleans house, trying to get rid of the smell of gasoline, which Seth's father brings in from the small gas station outside their rural home.

Dad, on the other hand, is very quiet, and later we learn he has a dark secret. Though he is more gentle with his son, at one point he tells him about vampires and allows the boy to believe they really exist. To call this family dysfunctional is to understate. At one point we see Mom punish

MOVIE Seth by pouring several glasses of water down his throat, until his bladder can hold no more.

Meanwhile, they all anxiously await the return of Seth's older brother Cameron (Viggo Mortensen), who has been serving in the Pacific.

Left to his own devices during the day, Seth tends to get into mischief, mostly involving a pale, young widowed neighbor woman named Dolphin Blue (Lindsay Duncan), whom he becomes convinced is a vampire.

As the film opens, Seth and two friends blow up a frog in her face, covering her with blood. Later, when his mother forces him to go over and apologize, Dolphin tells him ominously, "Sometimes terrible things happen quite naturally."

Other delightful plot points include four mysterious men in a big black Cadillac who kidnap and murder children, Cameron carrying around a photo of a Japanese child who was mutilated by the nuclear blast at Nagasaki, Seth's father pouring gasoline over himself and lighting a match — and Seth finding a half-formed fetus that he keeps in a box under his bed.

To say this is unpleasant is to understate. Ridley manages to develop a hauntingly evocative aspect to it all, but too often the imagery and shock elements seem to serve no purpose, other than alienating the audience.

The press kit also notes that Ridley was 29 when he made "The Reflecting Skin." To some that may mean he's a genius to be hailed. To me, it simply serves as a warning — he's young enough to make a lot more movies and I'm not old enough to retire before they come around.

"The Reflecting Skin" is not rated but would certainly get an R for some shocking violence (though most of it is offscreen), sex, nudity and a couple of profanities.

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