Faye Stoeser is positively electrifying in Cass Virdee’s fleeting short The Skin She Sheds, about a gang member who discards her old identity through the means of dance. Running at just under four minutes, the film explores the politics of peer pressure and the self, conveying an astonishing amount of emotion with its superb cinematography, score, and lead actress, whose aura is as extraordinary as her fluidity of movement.
In a stony, grey part of London, a knuckle-cracking gang assault an unidentified man in a launderette. One of the members, Amelia, breaks away from the group and abruptly leaves, marching in the opposite direction in an act of punishable rebellion. She begins to dance, shedding the hate the gang has poisoned her with.
The Skin She Sheds is a remarkable film in more ways than one, firstly because it effortlessly combines experimental dance with the cold setting and harsh storyline of a Ken Loach film or, more specifically, This is England [Shane Meadows, UK, 2006]. So much is achieved with so little: a grey council estate becomes a stage, a repeated guitar riff, the erratic soundtrack to a blossoming identity. Stoeser’s movements surpass dance – she convulses, haunted by her relationship to hate and abuse; she spreads her arms across a stone wall, both elegant and desperate to find something to cling onto. There is almost something horrific about this middle sequence in which Amelia is out of touch with her body, possessed almost. And yet, with each spasm, she gradually gains a sense of control, developing her movement and coming into herself, culminating in the moment her gang catch up with her.
Much like the beginning of the short, in which Amelia leaves the launderette almost as soon as she entered without there being much time to develop her growing hesitations about gang life, there equally seems to be a bit of a rush in closing the story. While the ending is a powerful statement, the rapidly built tension and momentum fall just short of catharsis. Nevertheless, whether it’s the film’s discreet angles watching its star from the obscurity, its haunting soundtrack of guitars and sirens, or Stoeser caught in the middle of it all, The Skins She Sheds packs a punch, an account of self and belonging that resonates long after.
'The Skin She Sheds' is a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2022.