The Reflecting Skin (film)

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The Reflecting Skin
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Philip Ridley
Produced by Dominic Anciano
Ray Burdis
Written by Philip Ridley
Starring Jeremy Cooper
Viggo Mortensen
Lindsay Duncan
Music by Nick Bicât
Cinematography Dick Pope
Edited by Scott Thomas
Distributed by Virgin Vision (UK)
Miramax Films (US)
Release dates
  • 9 September 1990 (1990-09-09) (Toronto)
  • 9 November 1990 (1990-11-09) (UK)
Running time
95 minutes[1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $17,042[2]

The Reflecting Skin is a 1990 British-Canadian horror film written and directed by Philip Ridley and starring Jeremy Cooper, Viggo Mortensen and Lindsay Duncan. The film follows a young child growing up in rural Idaho in the 1950s.


Eight-year-old Seth Dove becomes obsessed with the idea of vampires and soon attaches his fixation onto a reclusive local widow named Dolphin Blue. After his father’s suicide, Seth’s older brother Cameron comes home from his military tour of duty in Micronesia. Both emotionally wounded, Cameron and Dolphin begin an affair, leaving Seth to become completely infatuated with the notion of his brother’s danger. Along with this, Seth finds himself at the mercy of an unstable mother along with a group of strange, anonymous men, who plague the small children of Seth’s continually shrinking rural population.


  • Jeremy Cooper as Seth Dove
  • Viggo Mortensen as Cameron Dove
  • Lindsay Duncan as Dolphin Blue
  • Sheila Moore as Ruth Dove
  • Duncan Fraser as Luke Dove
  • David Longworth as Joshua
  • Robert Koons as Sheriff Ticker


The film weaves elements of the grotesque, vampirism, child sexual abuse, and religious zealotry throughout its narrative about the perceptions and fantasies of an impressionable pre-adolescent boy and his friends.


At the 1990 Locarno International Film Festival, Ridley won three awards, C.I.C.A.E. Award, the FIPRESCI Prize, and Silver Leopard. At the 1990 "Sitges" Catalonian International Film Festival, Lindsay Duncan won the Best Actress award and Dick Pope the award for Best Cinematography. At the 1990 Stockholm Film Festival, Ridley received the FIPRESCI Prize.

The film places the majority of its action outdoors around the dilapidated farms and in the wheat fields of Idaho shot in idyllic sunlight which belies the dark secrets of the characters and plot. The story is told in an objective, somewhat absurdist style, which recalls David Lynch by way of Days of Heaven.

Critical Reception[edit]

In spite of the awards, many American critics disliked the film. Variety wrote, "In this pretentious essay in the grotesque, British newcomer Philip Ridley shows technical ability and a macabre sense of humor, but the script’s abnormal situations and morbid characters pall quickly and leave little more than a bad aftertaste."[3] Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times, "The Reflecting Skin is clearly not your commonplace childhood memoir. It is part horror story, part absurdist comedy, mostly pretentious nonsense.[4] Chris Hicks denounced the film in The Desert News, writing, "One thing's for sure. Filmmaker Philip Ridley has been watching too many David Lynch movies," and "To say this is unpleasant is to understate. Ridley manages to develop a hauntingly evocative aspect to it all, but too often the imagery and shock elements seem to serve no purpose, other than alienating the audience.[5] Peter Travers wrote a kinder review in Rolling Stone, stating "It's not your average vampire movie; this one's got aspirations," but conceded, "Some of this arty Freudian posturing about a boy's head-on collision with sex, sin and death is ponderous."[6]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on Region 1 (US) DVD on 11 December 2011 by Echo Bridge Entertainment. The transfer is of poor quality and likely a direct port of either the VHS or Laserdisc. It features no extras. An English-friendly DVD is available from Japan, and the German Blu-ray has an English audio track (but questionable picture quality).

The film is due to be released on special edition DVD and Blu-ray in the UK by Soda Pictures later in 2015, in a new director-approved HD remaster. [7]


External links[edit]