.............................................................TRAPPED INSIDE A WORLD UNDER LEAGUES OF OCEAN........................................................

Saturday, October 20, 2012

movies: in my skin (dans ma peau) (2002)

I was completely blindsided by this film directed by and starring frequent Francois Ozon collaborator Marina de Van.  In My Skin is the story of Esther, recently promoted at work, and becoming more serious with her partner Vincent (played wonderfully by Lemming and Calvaire's Laurent Lucas).  After a mishap at a party where Esther cuts her leg, she slowly begins to become fascinated by the wound, gently prodding and picking at it and ultimately allowing it (and her new found pleasure derived from cutting herself) to consume her entirely.

A fascinating, bold, and at times very tough to watch film, In My Skin's success hinges on one thing - the believability of the lead performance and the empathy it commands.  Fortunately, de Van is quietly riveting, and not only is her descent into oblivion believable, it is tragic, horrifying, and, in a very strange way, beautiful.  De Van's Esther has the ability to completely and fearlessly let go, to allow her instincts and desires to complete her transformation from nervous stability to physical, emotional, and spiritual self-immolation; this, more so than any kind of physical hurt, is terrifying and awesome.  The idea that someone can willingly (or, arguably - and perhaps more frightening - unwillingly) sacrifice themselves to a feeling is at once simple and profound, and frankly, seductive.  I mean, we do it on a small scale everyday, give in to our cravings and desires, but not to the extent of obliterating your very existence in order to attain some form of total grace.

The film works on several layers: the first is straight up, Cronenbergian body horror.  I consider myself not very easily shocked - I've seen everything from Budd Dwyer's live televised suicide to 2 Girls 1 Cup and pretty much a whole bunch of sick, twisted shit in between that has often left me despising myself for being a part of the same species that can create such things.  However, there were moments in In My Skin that truly made me squirm, but not in a sensationalistic sense.  See the "violence" here is never gratuitous, and is in fact necessary for the story to play out the way it does.  De Van treats the often gruesome visual details of Esther's affliction with a mix of poignancy and the sense that Esther is an stranger in her own skin, and cannot fathom what this alien tissue is.  In this way, In My Skin owes a huge debt to the the slow burn psychological nosedive of Polanski's Repulsion, and indeed, Esther and Catherine Deneuve's Carol undergo very similar meltdowns, though Esther's is obviously much more graphic.

Another reading of the film is to see it as an addiction parable.  This is an obvious one, and my earlier mention of the horror and odd beauty of someone allowing themselves to be utterly consumed is an idea that is often explored in more literal translations, i.e. the typical "drug movie".  However, even that has become a hackneyed film trope and these days drug movies are no longer transgressive and fearless, they are de rigueur.  By removing references to drugs/alcohol/sex/texting, de Van reconfigures the viewer's experience.  We no longer overlook the addiction itself, because the addiction is the film; the film is the addiction.  By making the viewer focus on the ghastly goings-on as an externalized force, he is not allowed to forget, and is constantly being reminded that this is indeed what addiction is, this living nightmare of the soul betraying the body is very literally right in front of our eyes.

Esther uses the mutilation to escape or transcend the banality and growing pressures of her "real" world, and the deeper she crawls inside herself, and becomes more and more detached from the society around her, her externalized stigmata become increasingly brutal, until she finds herself stripping and consuming her own flesh.  In order to feel anything, she must destroy herself; an interesting philosophical paradox, and one suggestive of the image and idea of the Ouroboros, a kind of cyclical self-destruction that brings emotional transcendence and renewal.

There is no real resolution or consideration of those left in Esther's wake; in many ways, In My Skin is sort of an anti-slasher, where the violence and hurt is self-inflicted and is limited entirely to one person.  The final shot is haunting and elegiac, and will be fused to your retina for awhile, in much the same way that the final moments of Martyrs were.  In My Skin is a powerful, provocative, punishing work that has easily jumped into my top five horror films from the last decade.  A difficult, emotional, and ultimately very rewarding watch.

movies: deadbeat at dawn (1988)

Depraved indie bad boy Jim Van Bebber locks down the low-budget, ultra-badass vibe in this entry, in which he also stars and does his own stunts, including leaping off quite a tall bridge. The tag line for the film is "He quit the gangs, they killed his girl", and if you need more explanation than that, stop reading now. Van Bebber nails the look and feel of grimy '80s actioners, but with an air of authenticity (perhaps coming from the suitably decaying Dayton, Ohio cityscapes that frame the film) lacking in many of the more polished offerings of the era.

In his little interview (on the lovingly assembled Dark Sky DVD, part of the "Visions of Hell: The Films of Jim Van Bebber" box, which also includes The Manson Family and several early shorts), Van Bebber relates how he wanted to create a mashup of The Warriors and some of the Chuck Norris films he worshiped. He does that, certainly, but adds his own stamp to the film with psychedelic montages, graphic drug use and the main character's rather explicit spiral into near-oblivion.The final 10 minutes are spectacularly bloody and primal; Van Bebber and cast do a remarkable job creating a palapable mix of menace and fatalistic humour.

Not to everyone's tastes, for sure, but if you can dig either of the aforementioned precedents of this film, you'll find something both familiar and unique in Deadbeat at Dawn. I enjoyed it so much I bought the box set for myself, for what little that's worth.  Check it.

movies: lovecraft: fear of the unknown (2008)

"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is Fear of the Unknown."  So wrote Howard Phillips Lovecraft in the early part of the 20th century, and so begins the documentary Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown.

If you don't know who Lovecraft is by name, perhaps you are familiar with some of the film adaptations of his work, or those based on his writings and ideas?  The Thing, Alien, Hellboy, Re-Animator, From Beyond, and nearly a hundred others - not to mention those writers/filmmakers upon whom Lovecraft's influence is palpable.  Stephen King's The Mist?  Straight Lovecraft ripoff.  And John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness is widely regarded as one of the most successful interpretations of the Lovecraft mythos.

Perhaps Lovecraft's greatest contribution to the horror genre is that he created a completely new realm of possibility for horror; he left behind the gothic trappings of previous authors, the ghosts and witches, and introduced his readers to a much darker world ruled by old, vengeful gods, where mankind teetered on the brink of sanity and in which humanity's ultimate cosmic meaninglessness was stressed.  Some (intentional or not) very cool concepts are touched on in his stories - one such example is how he structures the final scene in The Rats in the Wall to parallel the relatively modern theory of Deep Time (which would have been known to Lovecraft).  Toss in some really creepy, slimy monsters (most resembling some kind of massive, mutated, deep sea thing), and some of the more purple prose you'll read, and you've got a bona fide heavyweight in American literature, albeit one who has only recently been recognized as such, finally elevated from the "lowly" designation of "pulp writer" with the stodgy Library of America's publication of Lovecraft: Tales.

The doc gathers together all the usual Lovecraft heirs - Ramsey Campbell, Stuart Gordon, Guillermo del Toro, Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, ST Joshi, John Carpenter and a few others, and simply allows them to speak.  Interspersed with their musings are period photographs (don't say it), letters, and modern artworks that interpret some of Lovecraft's nastier beasties.  The film is fairly straightforward, following the course of the general "survey doc", and is thorough in its study of the troubled author in the context of his times and his impact on the present.  Kudos to the filmmakers for not shying away from Lovecraft's intense xenophobia, as I find many of these docs that present the subject adoringly tend to gloss over the less savoury aspects of the person's life.

An enjoyable, informative, and well-made doc that will please current fans but isn't so esoteric as to alienate the newcomer to Lovecraft's work.  Recommended.  And I cannot wait for House of Re-Animator - shit's gonna be so rad.