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Mysterious Skin Reviews

It's an ideal collaboration: A stylish director desperately seeking substance transforms the first, somewhat flat novel of a promising young writer into powerful and brutally honest film about a highly controversial subject. In the summer of 1981, in the small town of Hutchinson, Kansas, five hours went missing from the life of 8-year-old Brian Lackey (George Webster). Brian remembers sitting on a bench at a Little League game, but the next thing he can recall is being found hours later, huddled in a cellar with a bloody nose. From that moment on, nosebleeds would become a regular thing with Brian, along with bed-wetting, night terrors and blackouts. Ten years later, while watching a TV show about UFO abductees with his mother (Lisa Long), Brian (Brady Corbet) becomes convinced that he, too, must have been nabbed by aliens; how else can he explain all that missing time? The summer of 1981 also proved to be a momentous one for Neil McCormick (Third Rock from the Sun's Joseph Gordon Levitt), but whereas Brian's close encounter left him with a host of neuroses, including a crippling sexual repression, Neil's experience transformed a curious kid into a sexually reckless underage hustler who, in just a few years, managed to trick with every john in Hutchinson. he summer of 1981 was also when Neil's preoccupied single mother (Elisabeth Shue) allowed his Little League coach (Bill Sage) to assume the role of big brother and virtual father, but in addition to foosball, video games and forbidden junk food, the coach also introduced young Neil to adult sexuality. Now teenagers, Brian and Neil must both confront the events of that traumatic summer and the truth about Brian's missing time — hours he can't remember, but which Neil, it turns out, can't forget. Given his penchant for the outrageous, Araki handles the film's most difficult scenes with remarkable sensitivity, and the film drives home a particularly painful point that most treatments of childhood sexual abuse are reluctant to acknowledge: Namely, that Neil likes the attention and comes to love his abuser, and that is what ruins him forever. Director Gregg Araki sticks close to Scott Heim's 1996 novel, all the way to its shocking denouement, but his rich visual imagination — he dusts young Neil with shower of sugary cereal and sends a UFO soaring over the Lackey house — makes Heim's story less naturalistic, but somehow more truthful.