#52FILMSBYWOMEN is a campaign launched by Women In Film in an attempt to raise awareness of female filmmakers. Their initiative asks cinephiles to watch a female-directed film once a week for an entire year, and in this series I will document the films I watched as a part of this pledge.
Though sold under the label of “New French Extremity” (a movement associated with films such as Inside and Martyrs), In My Skin is not as “extreme” as the tag may suggest – that said, it’s still pretty disgusting. Written, directed and starring Marina de Van, this assured debut feature is a flawed but effective chiller, which rapidly descends into progressively skin-crawling territory that will leave some viewers squirming in their seats.
The terror begins when Esther (de Van), a respectable businesswoman, trips and stumbles on some scrap metal while attending a friend’s house party. Distracted by the festive atmosphere, she doesn’t realise the extent of her injuries until much later, when she notices a trail of blood stemming from a large gash on her leg. She visits the doctor, who voices his surprise that she didn’t feel the pain sooner, but simply patches her up and thinks little more of it. Time passes, and her friends and boyfriend begin expressing concern for Esther when she starts exhibiting a disturbing curiosity for her new fleshly wound. Her fascination soon spirals into a strange and hideous obsession, eventually leading to self-mutilation and, even more disturbingly, self-cannibalism.
Although several have argued passionately in its defence, I’ve often found films tied with the New French Extremity movement too eager to provoke whilst under the disguise of something more profound than it actually is. So it’s a pleasure to report that In My Skin avoids the unnecessary explicit grotesquery commonly associated with the genre and plays out more like a gruelling psychodrama, akin to Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day, than a conventional horror movie.
That’s not to say the film is completely devoid of its gruesome moments, however. In one particularly memorable dinner scene, our heroine repeatedly jabs a steak knife into her arm as everyone else around the table continues conversing; unaware of her fragile mental state. It’shocking, blackly comic, unbearably difficult to watch, but also oddly captivating and tense – squirm-inducing in the most devilishly entertaining way.
The question as to what exactly leads to Esther’s tragic downfall into manic self-harm remains unsolved, leaving the narrative without context or deeper meaning. This can be alienating for those looking for answers, but there’s something admirable about leaving Esther’s condition a mystery for people to dissect themselves. This may not get your heart-racing or your palms sweaty, but it might just creep under your skin.