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by Luke Baumgarten & r & Mysterious Skin & r & The title of this film could really be the title of any coming-of-age movie. It's so obvious; I'm shocked it didn't get picked up earlier, for a John Cusack movie. In the context of a teen drama, (dealing with puberty, sexuality, identity) a name like Mysterious Skin says everything and nothing.


That's nice, in a way, to be free of those immediate associations and judgments, letting a film create its own language. It's also a little rough, though, not being able to pre-screen a film for tone or content. I had no inkling, for example, that this might be the kind of film where the protagonist gets lured into some Brighton Beach shower stall and brutally raped.


The film centers on Neil McCormick (Chase Ellison as young Neil; Joseph Gordon-Levitt later) and Brian Lackey (George Webster; Brady Corbet). Neil was sexually abused by his Little League coach, while aliens, it seems, abducted Brian. The two stories run in parallel throughout the film, rarely crossing but still providing insight into each other. Initially very nebulous, Mysterious Skin becomes a tale of the ways people cope. From suppressed sexual desire at one extreme and complete (sexual) abandon at the other, a tapestry of pain begins to fill out as Neil and Brian interact with others. Each man Neil sleeps with, for example, deals differently with the stress of having grown up gay.


The tone is uneven, which is a good thing. The surreality of the two boys' childhoods - the slow motion, the outr & eacute; acting - create a peculiar but believable fog bank of memory. The molestation and abduction are both shot gauzily and from a distance. Both are deeply unsettling, but as much for the events' encapsulation as for the actual torture the boys endure. When contrasted with the close-quarters cinema verite of the third act, it creates a feeling of torturous imbalance and illustrates the slow burn of trauma. It also, though, adds pointed bits of humor, especially as the absurdity of Brian's story begins to unfold. The camera and Corbet play it straight, which allows the audience a much-needed laugh.


If you have the stomach, this is a fantastic film.

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