After a brief absence (dja miss me?), here we go with The Wishlist, Part 2. This time around: The Reflecting Skin. This 1990 British film, directed by Philip Ridley, did get a DVD release in Japan in 2005, but has yet to show up on these shores, and more’s the pity.
The film takes place in the American Midwest in the 1950s, and has the supersaturated colours and creepy beauty one would associated with Terrence Malick, and, as with Malick, all sorts of nastiness lurks under the beauty. The protagonist…is eight-year-old Seth (Jeremy Cooper), whose overactive imagination invests his world with all sorts of horrors. He believes, for instance, that his neighbour, a woman going by the wonderful name of Dolphin Blue (Lindsay Duncan), is a vampire. He is understandably upset, then, when his brother (Viggo Mortensen, before he was Viggo Mortensen), recently returned from the armed forces, begins a relationship with her.
The thing is, though, Seth hardly needs his imagination to conjure horrors in his environment. He is surround by oddities as it is (see the birdlike sisters who go by, straight out of a David Lynch movie). But there is more. The movie’s tagline is “Sometimes terrible things happen quite naturally,” and that is exactly what transpires. Seth finds a human fetus in a barn. Mortensen has witnessed atomic bomb tests, and he is slowly dying of radiation poisoning. Children are being murdered in the neighbourhood, his father is being looked at with suspicion, and there’s a sinister black car prowling the rural roads. Everything is just about as bad as you think, and possibly a bit worse.
I mentioned the film’s rich cinematography above, and that bears emphasizing. This is a stunning film, and in the world of home video, is the kind of piece that was made for DVD. Having to watch this in pan-and-scanned VHS form is almost criminal. We are dealing with a form of visual poetry here – I’ve mentioned Malick, but think also of the Polish brothers at their most surreal (Northfork, Twin Falls, Idaho), and you’ll get a sense of what this could look like in widescreen and improved definition.
So, what are the odds of its release? Hard to say. The Japanese release is cause for hope, I suppose, but now that it’s two years old, it doesn’t look like anyone’s exactly jumping on a bandwagon. I see that Amazon does have an entry for the DVD version, but it’s one of those entirely vague “not yet released” deals, with no price, date, picture, or anything else. So those who are holding their breath are going to turn an unhealthy shade of blue, I’m afraid.
Well, we live in hope. In the meantime, used copies of the VHS version are available for the curious. Imperfect as such a viewing experience is, it’s still better than nothing, and the discerning horror fan will be richly rewarded by this dark, sombre mood piece.