Blu-ray Review: “Mysterious Skin” Is An Unsettling Film About Physical And Sexual Abuse


Review by James McDonald

A teenage hustler and a young man obsessed with alien abductions cross paths, together discovering a horrible, liberating truth.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an actor that has been around for a while. I was never a big fan of “Third Rock from the Sun”, not that the show wasn’t any good, I just never really got into it. I would catch an occasional episode and I always liked Mr. Levitt’s character of Tommy Solomon. I also remember seeing him in “Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later” so he was always around, in smaller roles at first and then I remember seeing him in “(500) Days of Summer” and it was that movie where he really caught my attention as an actor. Of course, since then, he’s worked in some very high profile Hollywood blockbusters like “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises” and also some very good indie dramas, such as “50/50”, “Looper”, “Lincoln” and “Don Jon”, which he also directed.

“Mysterious Skin” was a movie that Mr. Levitt made back in 2004 and it has just been re-released on DVD and on Blu-ray for the very first time. In the film, we open up in the early 1980s and find out that Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was abused by his softball coach when he was only eight years old and has grown up into a young twenty-something gigolo who will do anything for money. At the same time, one of Neil’s softball teammates, Brian (Brady Corbet) is convinced that he was abducted by aliens. He suffers from sporadic nose bleeds and has a tendency to black out when he remembers his alien abductions. On TV one night, he sees a young woman, Avalyn (Mary Lynn Rajskub) who claims that she too was abducted by aliens.

He travels out to see her and she tells him, in graphic detail, how she was abducted and even has the scars where the aliens probed her. They become friends but as the film plays out, he begins having flashbacks of him lying on a cold, steel table when he was young with aliens standing all around him. Gradually, the alien hands which are touching his face, slowly transform into human hands and we see that the alien abductions he so fervently believed to be true, were just a safeguard, a shield he created in his mind to cover up the events of what really happened.


He begins to see another boy’s face on the table beside him and it is that of Neil, when he was young. As Neil makes his way to New York City to stay with his friend Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg), he is picked up and then brutally raped and beaten and although he manages to survive, he makes his way back home to Kansas to be with his mother and his friends. He meets Brian again for the first time in years and helps him recall the unpleasant circumstances which he needs to remember in order to get on with his life.

“Mysterious Skin” is a very painful film to watch. Some of the scenes with the children come off as repugnant and you feel ashamed to be watching it. A couple of scenes with Neil as a young adult and the men he picks up in parks or bars or on street corners, really open your eyes to the fact that there are young men and women out there in the world who are going through the exact same experiences but for real. The performances by the whole cast, especially a young Mr. Levitt, are brutally honest, there’s no acting here, it all feels so real.

You can see the pain he is experiencing and like a black hole in human form, he will suck you into his life and then discard you just as quickly because he is incapable of loving any one, spending his days going from one lifeless encounter to the next. Elizabeth Shue and Chris Mulkey appear, albeit briefly but they play their roles with conviction. “Mysterious Skin” is one of those movies that you can watch once and once is more than enough.

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James McDonald
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