Horror Becomes Her - In My Skin (2002)
Horror and films directed by women are both big blind spots for me, so I am taking this deep dive into some of the more outre films I have come across in my movie watching.
Out of all the films that I have seen so far in this illuminating marathon, In My Skin has to be the most visceral. I will admit that I have often picked at dead skin and scabs and admired it even as it made slightly queasy to enjoy the minor catharsis mixed with pain that accompanies every pick. In My Skin takes this sentiment to the extreme, as it becomes about addiction to self-mutilation.
The cause of Esther’s (played by director Marina de Van) self-mutilation is never made completely aware. Is she just mentally ill? Is she suffering from trauma in her life? Is she so bored and full of existential angst that the only way that she can feel alive is to feel actual physical pain? There is room for all of these questions though the movie does not definitively settle on any theory. Much of the movie is content to show Esther slowly testing the limits of her “powers” and seeing how it parallels with her disconnection from other people: her boyfriend, her friends, her co-workers, etc. The camera does not judge Esther explicitly but rather tries to get into her mentality and make us feel the intimacy of her actions. I can watch fake guts spill out of people all day on screen, but the way that Esther picks at herself is more violent and impactful than most gore in any horror movie.
The extraordinary scene at the climax when we just see Esther go to town on herself is probably where most people would turn off this movie for good, if they didn’t already. I saw this as Esther using her body as a canvas for her art. The way that she gazes into the camera is a bold rebuke to our voyeuristic tendencies and even as she gets bloodier and bloodier, she is far from a victim and more of a perpetrator, a woman who can do what she wants with her body on her own terms, even if it’s clearly not good for her. To be clear, In My Skin does not endorse self-mutilaton ultimately. Esther’s alienation only makes her condition worse and she clearly needs to break from this destructive disorder. Yet the film makes a bold, transgressive statement about a woman’s agency over her own body that few films have ever done and is worth watching just because of the power of this declaration.