American queer cinema pioneer Greg Araki reaches artistic maturity (well, kind of) with MYSTERIOUS SKIN, based on the eponymous book by Scott Heim. Brian Lackey (Brady Corbett) believes he had been abducted by aliens when he was a child because he can’t remember what happened to him on two occasions when he was eight. Parallel to Brian’s story runs the story of Neil McCormick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hustler who is brought up by a single mother (superbly played by Elisabeth Shue) and who follows his best friend to New York in an attempt to get out of the provincial hellhole they were born in. The film is beautifully photographed, sometimes stage-y like one of Cindy Sherman’s ‘film stills’ and the atmosphere eerie a la David Lynch.
The film presents two different outcomes of the experience of paedophilia from the point of view of the victims, without, however, succumbing to the medieval hysteria that often clouds the issue. Araki is no Todd Haynes – another pioneer of the New Queer Cinema that gained momentum in the early 1990s– and there are moments when he slips on his tendency towards indie clichés and bad writing. But he does show here that he’s come a long way since The Living End (1992), his overwrought Aids road-movie that put him on the film world map.