Mysterious Skin, Gregg Araki’s adaptation of Scott Heim’s novel, makes for a bizarre, beguiling coming-of-age drama about sexual abuse. Timid, addle-brained teenager Brian (Corbett) is convinced that the five hours of blackout he experienced when he was a Little Leaguer are evidence that aliens swooped out of the skies and abducted him. Ever since that event, he’s been obsessed with confirming that suspicion and feels that only Neil (Gordon-Levitt), with whom he shares his Little League past, can help. Neil’s life has taken a decidedly different path than the bookish Brian’s since childhood. Trawling their small town’s parks and dive bars for johns, the gay Neil has gone from his baseball team’s star batter to the town’s star hustler. It so happens that Neil harbors a lingering obsession with memories of his Little League coach, a man he associates with his earliest sexual experiences. Neil’s sexual history and Brian’s blackout/alien abduction conspiracy slowly intertwine as the boys’ lives — their present and their pasts — finally overlap.
Truth may not be stranger than fiction, but it’s often more difficult to deal with as Brian’s ordeal suggests and we learn how both Brian and Neil have dealt with their common childhood traumas in radically different psychological ways. Arraki’s direction and script are both rigorously honest, wavering neither from the more fey, pseudo-sci-fi elements of Brians’s story nor from the grim realities of Neil’s sexual predations. Childhood and adolescence, in Araki’s treatment of Heim’s novel, are barbed with untrustworthy and poisonous thorns. Gordon-Levitt and Corbet both deliver brave, excellent performances.
Directed by: Gregg Araki
Written by: Gregg Araki
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet, Elisabeth Shue, Bill Sage, Michelle Trachtenberg, Lisa Long, Chris Mulkey