Well that was weird.
Recently, I watched a chilling little Netflix streamer called Dark Touch. You'll have to wait until February's Attack of the Shorties for the full review, but I'll tell you now that I found it fairly great. On the surface, it was an easy killer kid film (my favorite kind) but much like the recent WWE released Oculus, the film proved to be an incredibly sad metaphor for child abuse. With that in mind, I was happy to seek out more films from director Marina de Van.
Quick Plot: Esther (played by the writer/director herself) is an attractive middle class young woman quickly rising through the corporate ranks at her marketing job and about to buy an apartment with her handsome, successful boyfriend. Life's just a bowl of cherries, or, as we're in France, a carton of cigarettes.
One night at the kind of parties French films like this one and Irreversible have led me to believe are daily occasions for attractive Europeans, Esther accidentally cuts her leg on some metal. Thinking nothing of it, she continues to dance and drink the night away, only realizing much later the true severity of the wound. A doctor urges her to get surgery, but for no clear reason, she decides to let it heal on its own.
Before you could open a bottle of red wine, Esther finds herself rather fascinated by her bloody infection. She cuts it open, chews at it, pokes at it, shreds it in order to tan what can be saved--
Throughout all of this self-mutilation, Esther continues her 'real' life, occasionally with disastrous results. A work dinner with important clients goes south quickly when Esther, after a few glugs of wine, begins to see her arm as being dislocated from her body. It's a fascinating and much-discussed scene that does a surreal job of contrasting this insane body horror with the dull bourgeois conversation held amongst professionals unwilling to fully acknowledge whatever madness might be around them.
As director, writer, and star, Marina de Van truly gives her all in In My Skin. The term ‘brave’ performance usually just refers to an attractive actress playing a scene naked or without makeup, but what Van does is far more complicated and yes, brave. Esther isn’t fun or even likable, per say. Van puts a distance in her character that deliberately feels cold and almost off-putting. It’s not that we don’t like Esther: it’s more that we, like her fiance, can’t seem to really know her.
In My Skin calls to mind the works of David Cronenberg, a similarly experimental filmmaker whose fascination with the human body has led to some of the genre’s most memorably twisted moments. In My Skin isn’t quite as fulfilling as something like Videodrome, but it’s a strangely fascinating tale that leaves a definite mark on the viewer. I don’t think it’s for every horror fan and I haven’t fully reconciled what it was trying to do, but it’s the kind of film that will challenge you well after its final does of gore.
At first, I almost felt like the blankness of Esther was something negative. Why not give us a little more of pre-cut Esther so we get to know and see how far she falls. By the end of the film, however, I realized how purposeful it was for Esther to be utterly ordinary and inaccessible. Any shading on her personality would skew one’s interpretation of what it all means
That being said, I’m still not entirely sure what it all means. But I might just be a dumb ol’ Amerrkan
Potassium alum is the secret to tanning human skin
How I long to say "go to the doctor when you gash open your leg and find yourself bleeding profusely"...
And yet, dear reader, how can I espouse such a simple direction when time and time again, I find myself slicing a chunk of my finger off when cutting bread, only to power through the blood loss in order to finish dinner? With my multiple unnecessary scars, I say: I am in no position to give doctoral advice on such issues as this
Marina de Van is probably one of the most interesting, yet under the radar new voices in modern horror. I haven’t fully wrapped my head around In My Skin, but I loved the challenge of it and will certainly revisit it in the future. This is an unusual spin on body horror that might not be immediately satisfying, but is certainly worth the effort. It will stick with you.