Seth Dove (Jeremy Cooper) is a small boy growing up in an unnamed part of the rural United States circa 1950. Seth's older brother is in the Navy, enjoying what their volatile mother naively calls “the pretty islands” and Seth and his young friends, with nothing better to do, enjoy inflating bullfrogs and exploding them with their slingshots and tormenting the mysterious woman who lives close by, an English widow called Dolphin Blue (Lindsay Duncan) who Seth begins to suspect is actually a 200-year-old vampire.
After one of his friends is murdered and found in the water tank on Seth’s family farm, suspicion falls upon Seth's father. The accusation also unearths a long buried secret about the father that results in more tragedy for the little boy. Seth, however, is convinced the vampire is responsible. It isn’t long before another of Seth’s friends is killed.
When Seth’s brother (Viggo Mortensen) returns home and falls in love with the vampire, Seth is certain that she is draining his lifeforce. Surely that can be the only reason Seth’s brother is losing so much weight and his hair is falling out. No-one will believe Seth’s stories, but it is his duty to stop the vampire once and for all. Could Dolphin Blue be innocent? Could the murders of children actually be linked to the strange youths roaming the dirt roads in their ominous black car?
British writer/director Philip Ridley created a genuine masterpiece in The Reflecting Skin. His film deserves much more acclaim than it ever received, and it has been very badly mistreated by past home video releases. Thankfully, with this new Blu-ray release it has been restored to its full glory. It is no exaggeration to say the film has never looked this good, not even in cinemas. What’s more, this Blu-ray presentation comes fully loaded with features and interviews, two of Ridley’s earlier short films and a fascinating commentary by the director.
The cinematography is exquisite, with some absolutely jaw-dropping shots of the cornfields, the clapboard farmhouses, the sun blazing down and the moon looming large and ominous as night falls. As for the performances, Lindsay Duncan and Viggo Mortensen are both stand-outs, with Duncan being especially remarkable. The Reflecting Skin isn’t for everybody and despite talk of vampires it isn’t a horror film. The pacing is slow, almost poetic, and much of the dialogue is quite theatrical (not surprising, considering that Ridley is also a playwright). The film also leaves us with as many questions as answers, and it is open to a myriad of interpretations. Unfortunately, without giving the ending away, we can’t tell you our favourite one.
And as for the title? That is explained by Mortensen's character very late into the movie during a poignant conversation with Seth. The “pretty islands” weren't that pretty at all. They were Japan, at the exact moment America dropped the atomic bomb. It is cinema’s loss that Philip Ridley has made so few films and our gain to have The Reflecting Skin back again and looking and sounding so perfect.
Don't miss this.
THE REFLECTING SKIN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: PHILIP RIDLEY / STARRING: VIGGO MORTENSEN, LINDSAY DUNCAN, JEREMY COOPER, SHEILA MOORE, DUNCAN FRASER / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 30TH