Mysterious Skin: Alien vs. Predator
Updated: Jul 16, 2020
Sci-fi Turns Depressing
Mysterious Skin is a 2004 movie directed by Gregg Araki. The lead of this movie is a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Because of my age, I’m more familiar with Gordon-Levitt’s new roles, such as Inception or The Dark Knight Rises. I knew Joseph Gordon-Levitt was popular in the 90s but I’d never watched anything he starred in during that time.
Mysterious Skin interested me because of its acclaimed dark nature. I’d seen from great reviews that this film was a dramatic coming-of-age story. But one critic’s review said that he guessed the whole plot in the first 20 minutes, so he gave it a bad review.
And, I hate to say it, but I guessed it too.
Mysterious Skin follows two boys, Neil McCormick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Brian Lackey (Brady Corbet). I didn’t notice if the movie describes the boys’ ages, but I’m assuming they’re about nine. They are both connected in some way but the audience has yet to figure out why.
In the first few moments, we see a young Neil discover his sexuality while watching his mother (Elizabeth Shue), engage in oral sex with her then-boyfriend. Neil uses this experience to somewhat justify his “attraction” to his baseball coach. And yes, it’s going the way you expect it to go.
Neil’s baseball coach is a disgusting sexual predator.
He gave off the stereotypical predator vibes, including the handlebar mustache! Jokes aside, the coach had sugary snacks, toys, and games riddled about the house. He uses these to attract children.
I won’t go into too much detail but the way the movie dealt with this subject was very realistic. From the tactics the coach used for grooming to the way it affected Neil, the film did a great job without being too wrong for the sake of the child actors.
As for Brian’s story, he recalls aliens abducting him. He only remembers bits and pieces of this encounter and strives to find more answers. Every time he’s “contacted” by aliens, he gets a nosebleed, which after seeing the ending, I’m not sure why it happens.
Now, when I watched Brian’s story, I knew what was up. Brian suppressed his memory of being molested and in order to cope with it, he imagined his experience as an abduction by aliens.
And of course, I was right again.
At the beginning of the movie, we see little Brian after a baseball game, so I don’t think the movie was being too shy about being obvious. But I would’ve rather it been a mystery so I could at least feel some shock. But I can forgive it since it’s a coming-of-age movie and not some big mystery movie. Sadly, sexual abuse is prevalent for many boys and girls growing up and this movie hit the nail right on the head with that.
The molestation of the two young boys was so hard to watch, even with the safe direction Gregg Araki took. It was too depressing knowing these young boys had to go through such a terrible thing even if it’s fictional. This kind of atrocity happens in real life every day which makes the situation even worse.
It’s interesting how we see sexual abuse mold someone’s future. Neil McCormick ended up helping his coach bring other boys to him to have “fun.” Brian Lackey only had one night of abuse but it seemed like he dissociated during it.
These reactions to their abuse affect them into their teenage years too. Neil McCormick is a gay teen who prostitutes himself and gets into drugs. Many victims of sexual abuse end up going down the wrong path in life because they believe that’s all they’re worth. Neil’s sex work takes him to New York where he’s raped by a John. Again, the rape scene is extremely realistic and hard to watch. Victims of abuse often experience more than one instance of sexual abuse, as Neil did.
But with Brian Lackey, he’s very quiet and to himself. In fact, he’s not sexual at all. In the movie, Neil’s friend Eric states that Brian is “almost asexual.” Throughout his search about alien abductions, he meets a woman named Avalyn who also has alien abduction claims. She obviously has a crush on him and tries to initiate sex but ends up rejected by Brian. Of course, he can reject anyone he wants. But after hearing Eric’s comment about Brian being asexual, it only confirms the fact that he seems repulsed by sexuality. This repulsiveness to sex is another path that sexual abuse victims take.
And even with Avalyn, if we associate these “alien abductions” with sexual abuse, maybe she was also assaulted and has yet to come to terms with it.
The ending of this movie was one of the best parts. Brian finally gets Neil to tell him about the night of his assault in full detail so he will remember. Through the story, Brian leans on Neil’s shoulder and then lays down in his lap to cry. They are both tied together in their abuse with Neil feeling apathetic towards it and Brian feeling deep sadness after keeping it in for so long.
Shockingly enough, I found that Brady Corbet played his part as Brian better than Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Neil. Gordon-Levitt seemed to mumble his lines sometimes and it made it difficult to understand.
The whole movie had mostly mid-tier acting which sometimes made me disinterested. But a scene that kept me on my toes was when Brian confronted his dad's detached attitude. Brian’s speech was full of emotion and I felt like you could really feel that he knew something awful had happened to him. He needed his dad to be there for him. His dad didn’t seem like he cared enough at all, which made Brian’s plight more depressing.
In fact, the main reason why the coach got ahold of Brian was because his dad failed to pick him up from a baseball game. I’m sure he holds some resentment toward his dad because of that.
Overall, I felt the movie was a bit dragging because of the lackluster script. But there were parts that made this movie worth watching, such as the way it portrayed abuse and assault and the emotional side of it. It almost felt like a tame version of Requiem for a Dream.
It was so depressing but you had to watch more of what would happen. I actually believe it would’ve been a better movie if it was a bit darker and less campy.
I give Mysterious Skin a 7/10.