Sometimes people just fall apart, and Marina de Van’s effectively opaque horror film In My Skin charts such a sudden degeneration of body and mind. Along with directing the film, de Van stars as Esther, a mid-level business woman who slices her leg in a accident at a house party, then becomes obsessed with the wound in a very unhealthy way. Throughout the film, de Van is both the perpetrator and the victim wrapped up into one masochistic package, resulting in a complex and astute examination of self-inflicted horror.
In My Skin focuses intently on Esther’s physical and mental trauma, first beginning with her sly fascination with the texture of scars and the taste of the blood running down her leg. But gradually de Van closely reveals an increased activity of violence, paralleling Esther’s trance-like state with the jarring brushes of reality that inevitably interrupt her destructive rituals. In one audacious sequence, Esther and her boss take prospective clients out to a fancy dinner. Suddenly, underneath the table Esther begins to cut her arm over and over, relishing the arousal of the act while trying to maintain an attentive guise with her customers. It’s like Hitchcock downed a pint of Cronenberg and spewed out some Argento, for no other reason than to see the audience squirm.
de Van keeps the narrative crosshairs aimed at Esther’s disturbing drift into isolation, finally ending on a wide shot of startling confrontation and disavowal. Esther seems to understand what she’s become, even if the viewer doesn’t. As she lies on a bed soaked in blood, her eyes gaze directly into the camera and antagonize our perception of violence and pain. Can we ever comprehend such a destructive process without recognizing the suffering soul underneath? de Van makes it difficult, keeping us distant from Esther’s character and close to her actions. But labeling or explaining such an act doesn’t come close to answering Esther’s traumatic need for pain. It just further complicates her plight, making In My Skin a very effective horror film about the physical ramifications of pent up interior conflict.