Mysterious Skin

When Neil and Brian were eight years old, they were on the same little league team. Ten years later, both are reeling from abuse suffered long ago. Neil (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Latter Days, Treasure Planet) is now a teenage prostitute, while Brian (Brady Corbet, Thunderbirds, Thirteen) does not remember five hours of his life and believes himself the victim of abduction. Mysterious Skin, based on the novel by Scott Heim, is familiar territory for filmmaker Greg Araki (Splendor, Nowhere), who tones down some of his more histrionic predilections, leaving audiences with an oppressively meditative look at the lives of two young men.

Neil was Coach's (Bill Sage, The Drum Beats Twice, Sin) favorite athlete. He had no father figure, and was happy at the attention and fun he had with Coach. Eventually, the games turned more sinister, and Coach (sporting a seventies porn moustache) begin abusing him, but pretending it was a game. The scars never healed. Neil began turning tricks with older men for extra money, emotionally detaching himself from the world. Even amongst his friends Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg, Ice Princess, Eurotrip) and Eric (Jeff Licon, My Father's Love) he seems lifeless. Whether he realizes it or not, Neil is looking for answers. He decides to go to New York to try to find them there.

Brian is also looking for answers. He believes that his lost time was a result of an alien abduction. Ever since then, he was prone to nosebleeds and other ailments. Brian is the opposite of Neil; he's pretty much a nerd, and because of his frequent problems, he is somewhat of an outcast. He finds a kindred spirit in Avalyn Friessen (Mary Lynn Rajskub, Legally Blonde 2, Sweet Home Alabama), an abductee he contacted after he saw her on television. Yet, even after meeting her, he still feels incomplete. Araki switches between the Brian and Neil and the past and the present, in effect telling four stories. This also means that for the bulk of the film, Corbet and Gordon-Leavitt are not on screen together. Brian eventually discovers Neil, and decides to try to locate him, hoping that he will have some answers.

Araki does do a good job showing the horror and trauma that the two boys underwent as children. The scene where Coach makes his move is effectively frightening. Things change quickly from innocent fun to something much worse. The acting covers some of the slower points of the plot. Sage is pure slime. He comes across as extremely creepy, yet is subtle enough such that small children would not be able to tell. Thus, it is plausible that he can easily lure unsuspecting boys into his arms. Corbet and Gordon-Leavitt are better. Gordon-Leavitt is a seething cauldron of rage, yet one feel's that this anger arises from a deeper sadness. And while he gives an intense performances, it still feel's like he's trying to distance him self from this Third Rock days by choosing roles as whacked out as possible. Corbet also redeems his atrocious performance in Thunderbirds. Brian's reaction was the opposite of Neil's; instead of lashing out, he withdrew all his emotions, becoming a scared, timid young man. Nevertheless, the premise is something that probably comes across better on page than on film. Both young men are going through serious internal struggles, and finding a way to show that on screen is difficult. As a result, Mysterious Skin drags in places.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 39 minutes, Not Rated but contains language, sexuality, and mature themes, an easy R.

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