“I feel my leg normally now”
In My Skin is one of the lesser known movies associated with the term New French Extremity. Writer/director/lead actress Marina de Van has produced a remarkable piece of body horror which is in ways reminiscent of early David Cronenberg. The difference being that unlike Cronenberg’s work, where the mutilation is on the whole a change for the better, becoming something new, de Van’s movie is a nihilistic piece with little hope of redemption.
The movie follows Esther (de Van) a woman who seems to have it all. Her career is on the way up, her relationship with her partner is going so well that they plan to buy a house together. Everything is going well until she goes to a party one night, while walking outside in the dark she trips over & badly gashes her right leg. She is unaware she has hurt herself until later in the evening. It is from this moment on that everything changes for her. She becomes fascinated with the wound as it begins to heal & in an almost trance like state she cuts at the wound with a piece of metal. Slowly this new compulsion begins to take over her life. While at an important work dinner, she hallucinates that her arm has detached & is lying on the dinner table. Once it is “reattached” she begins to cut & stab it under the table with a steak knife. This behaviour culminates when she books herself into a hotel overnight & lies on the bathroom floor with the knife, cutting, slicing & removing pieces of skin. Tasting her own blood, chewing her skin, lost in her own body. As the movie progresses Esther’s behaviour becomes more & more difficult to hide from friends & loved ones & starts to affect her work.
In My Skin is an incredibly powerful movie. A film of immense depth, Marina de Van should be congratulated for making a movie that truly makes you think. In My Skin is a multi layered movie. The compulsion to self harm could be seen as a metaphor for bulimia, anorexia & drug abuse. Echoing how the afflicted can hide their condition from their loved ones. At one stage in the movie Esther fakes a car wreck just to explain away her new injuries. When Esther is mutilating herself it is almost an act of withdrawal. A release from the world she lives in & the people she shares it with. Her compulsion is something solitary that she can never share. It is hers alone. It is also a time when she is completely happy in her own skin, her own body image. De Van’s performance is wonderful, as is her script & direction. The mutilation scenes are very graphic & disturbing. The scenes of a similar nature in Splatter, Naked Blood & Cutting Moments which are much stronger in what they show onscreen, but it is the nature of Esther’s mutilation which makes it so hard to watch. As she lies on the hotel bathroom floor sucking the blood from her own arm or playing with pieces of her own skin with her teeth, it is almost sexual. The very act of mutilation becomes almost calming & tranquillising.
In My Skin is one of those films that slips under the radar at first but is such a wonderful revelation when you finally discover it. If you have a strong constitution I highly recommend you watch this movie. A thought-provoking, intelligent piece of disturbing cinema.