If childhood memories could be distilled into pure energy, they would probably seem as radioactive as the golden glow emitted from the spray-painted wheat fields of The Reflecting Skin. Otherworldly, easily seen from a distance and something that would likely be burned upon our retinas if stared at long enough. But, in the instance we happen to all be vampires, this vibrancy would also be something for us to recoil from. And that’s something that seems worth considering when the world we are being shown here is haunted by childhood trauma. No matter what side of the light we think we live in, there is no telling who may get burned. And who may be bitten.

This is where the horror in Phillip Ridley’s film will reside, inside of all the terrifying contradictions of our earliest years, where the adult world slowly begins to come into view and we only have our fables and our imaginations to make sense of what we see ourselves being unwillingly pulled towards. Not only does it heighten these disorienting feelings by bathing its view of childhood in a summer brightness, a magic hour all of us would likely feel comfortable curling back up in if afforded the chance.

But, it also fills this vision with such a scorching light it can’t help but deepen the kinds of shadows where the belief in such things as vampires can thrive. Whether or not we still believe in these things is irrelevant, what matters is there was a time in our life when we had to. The Reflecting Skin invites us to peek into the tomb where this not yet dead memory still lives, and reminds us how frightening the real world really is by showing us the many ways we resist the reality of it when we are younger.

As a result, its vision of childhood seems a suffocating thing, long mummified, regardless of all the light it allows in. It is not a depiction of youth that dreams of the future. Instead, it wallows in its smell of dead flies and dust. And as the old bandages it has been swaddled in begin to crack, it leaves only a musty cloud for us mortals to breath in. It would be a wonderful perfume for all of the vampires out there, if not for how much of that pesky sunlight is lingering about.

For fans of horror, it is a good thing to finally come upon a film that does not pander exclusively to the terrors we find in the night and in the darkness. The Reflecting Skin instead stares at its monsters dead on, fully illuminated, because it clearly hopes its audience will wither like an ant beneath its unflinching point of light.

But, even if we don’t shrivel like a burning insect while watching, we will at least recognize the heat of its message. Things can be just as frightening in the light if you are a child who stares too closely. Especially when you realize there are no shadows left to play tricks on you and that what you are looking at is really there. You just might not have the proper name for it yet.

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