Philip Ridley and the Film
As a fan of the horror genre one is usually on the lookout waiting for something new, persistently waiting for—living in anticipation of your mind being blown. However, sometimes something you’ve seen before, or haven’t looked at in the right way yet, can bring the same effect. One of the things about The Reflecting Skin I never fully took into account were those involved in the making of it. This reexamination has revealed Philip Ridley—and artistic force in multiple media—who I’d somehow never really considered or looked into despite holding this work in such high regard. Furthermore, close examination of this film made me realize that I have one of his novels on my TBR (To Be Read) pile and I only made the connection now.
For a work to stand out and be unique it needn’t create entirely new American iconography. The Reflecting Skin combines familiar tropes of Americana which are ingrained in not only our consciousness, but the world’s (the film being the imagined version of America by a British auteur). In its presentation, through the twisted perceptions of a traumatized child, the move recombines the familiar in unfamiliar ways, mingling the sacred and the profane, humor and horror, beauty and depravity, open spaces and oppressive homes.
The Reflecting Skin tells the story of an eight-year-old boy, Seth Dove (Jeremy Cooper) and a harrowing sun-soaked summer on isolated Idaho farmland wherein death looms and strikes indiscriminately; he longs for the return of his older brother Cameron (Viggo Mortensen) from the war; copes with his overbearing mother (Sheila Moore), tolerates a pitiable father (Duncan Fraser), suspects a strange neighbor Dolphin Blue (Lindsay Duncan) of being a vampire; and is stalked by black Cadillac driving hoods.
This film will leave you overwhelmed by its beauty on occasion. Its subjective, dreamlike, subconscious language will either speak to you or it won’t. An example of this is that as I prepared to view this film anew my thought on it was that for 96 minutes it instills in me an awestruck fright that my childlike self felt at the quasi-literal visual that accompanied the line “All the vampires walking through The Valley, move west down Ventura Boulevard” in Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” video. This is what came to me before images from the film itself, such is its dreamlike persistence.
I’m not one for statements like “I’d never really seen this movie before” even though I firmly believe in being a member of the #AspectRatioPolice on film-Twitter, but aspect ratio is the least of the sins absolved by this new release. The opening frame of this film hit me like a sledgehammer unlike it ever had before. So long had it been since I last saw it I’d forgotten that before we’re introduced to Seth Dove all we see is a wheat field. The sumptuous beauty of the image properly framed, immaculately presented, and color balanced toward excessive saturation forced a reflexive expletive from my mouth.
As is standard with Film Movement Classics releases there is an essay accompanying this film. This one is co-authored by Travis Crawford and Heather Hyche and illuminates some of the unique path of The Reflecting Skin’s path to cult classic status. It also teases Philip Ridley’s other two feature films which comprise a horror trilogy of sorts. Its closing line about cult films rings particularly true when this new, proper presentation elevated my appreciation of this film:
“Ridley has stated that the film’s restoration looks even better than the movie did upon its initial release, and this should finally satiate fans who know the truest cult films are not only the ones that have aged well over time, but the ones that also improve with each obsessive repeat viewing.”
Angels & Atom Bombs: The Making of The Reflecting Skin
This 44-minute documentary with insights from Philip Ridley, Viggo Mortensen, Dick Pope, and Nick Bicât is worth watching, but perhaps the most interesting part of it is Ridley’s explanation of the anthropophagous creation of the story from his art to a story idea about a recurrent figure in those paintings and collages.
The Commentary Track
For any and all who might be inclined to get this film, I recommend all the bonus features. While between the making of and the commentary some information will be conveyed twice, however, with Philip Ridley’s feature-length commentary there are some things taken more in depth, such as the adjustments to cover sets; other filming specifics like lighting challenges, film cheats, and more. Both are suggested after seeing the film if the title is new to you. As I’d seen it before, I saw the featurette first.
Release: August 13, 2019