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Review: Mysterious Skin

What do a self-destructive male prostitute (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a UFO-obsessed community college student (Brady Corbet) have in common? Quite a lot, as a matter of fact–and though they spend nearly all of 100 minutes apart, their shared past sets them on a collision course that will change both of their lives forever.

Director Gregg Araki punctuates this disturbing, arresting, and strangely beautiful narrative mystery with a number of smaller visual puzzles. As the film opens, we see blurry, colorful shapes drifting through a milky white abyss; gradually, the image comes into focus: a shower of Froot Loops cascading over the face of a young boy. In a later scene, Gordon-Levitt and Michelle Trachtenberg stand before the vast screen at the local drive-in, imagining their own private movie. Trachtenberg holds a speaker up to her ear and claims she hears the voice of God; for a moment, it appears as though the two youths are soaring through a field of stars–but then the camera pulls back, revealing it’s just a sudden snowfall. These little touches immerse the viewer in the characters’ damaged psyches, creating a chilling, hypnotic, and emotionally-charged cinematic experience.

[Originally written September 12, 2012.]

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