Friday, October 19, 2012

25 Horror Films: #25 and #24


Dans ma peau / In My Skin (Marina de Van, 2002)

Non-spoiler version:

Tim Palmer: "[Marina de Van] challenges a fundamental cinematic convention that treats bodies on-screen as primarily the means for character formation: as physically active, outgoing and functional, more often than not traditionally attractive, and, crucially, the site of readable behaviour from which derives overt psychology. Instead, de Van dwells on the body in and of itself, probing its nature as material substance, a sometimes compromised organic vessel or container. Represented through de Van's camera, the body becomes matter abstracted from mind, the source of peculiarly remote sensation, or else, complete disassociation and passive disconnect."

Mild-spoiler version (from something I wrote previously):

"I bent forward, suddenly conscious of my legs in new blue trousers. But how do you know they're your legs? [...] For it was as though I were looking at my own legs for the first time — independent objects that could lead me to safety or danger."

Reading the above passage from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man a few months ago instantly reminded me of Marina de Van's In My Skin — a film I hadn't seen for a couple of years. Thematically, the excerpt and the film are similar. De Van's film revolves around a woman (played by the director) who scrapes her leg at a party, an accident that sends her on a journey where she obsessively investigates the disconnect between mind and body (perhaps the phrase "scrape of chairs" preceding the above excerpt also helped trigger the connection). Much like Ellison's protagonist, de Van becomes conscious of her body as some separate, foreign thing. On the one hand, yes, that's my leg; on the other, it's just a slab of meat and bone. Exploring this mystery becomes more important to her than anything else.

In My Skin's greatest strength is that it doesn't try to intellectualize (or even verbalize) these questions. Quite fittingly, considering the subject matter, de Van's excellent horror film bypasses the viewer's mind altogether, opting instead to take us on the same visceral journey as its protagonist. It explores its ideas simply by showing.

Whistle and I'll Come to You (Jonathan Miller, 1968), in which a smug, self-sure Englishman is confronted with the unknown. This short film manages to conjure up the feeling of what it was like to hear a mysterious sound while trying to fall asleep as a child—the kind of unusual and unexpected sound that paralyzes and makes one afraid to look, and terrifies the imagination with images of what it is that might be seen.

When we become older, facing ghosts or monsters becomes much less frightening. What we grow to fear most is facing the knowledge that such things are real. The ghost itself would scare us only because of what it would represent, which is the chaos of everything instantly being thrown into question.

Watch it in full:


Andrew Gilbert said...

This is a great series. I recall you mentioning doing something last this last October. I always love the idea of 'horror' as something unsettling and not limited to genre. Also, so far you've been writing about films I haven't seen or even heard of, which is always exciting.

Tyler said...

Thanks! Glad you like it.

For various reasons I decided to lean in the direction of lesser-knowns -- either in terms of the films themselves, or, in the case of the ones that are better known, whether or not they're usually considered horror films.