We are all products of our environment and upbringing. Our personalities are formed over time by the events that unfold in our life. What happens when you reject this natural process and steal your personality and identity directly from another person? This question is addressed in the film In Their Skin and the answer is a complex but flawed film.
In Their Skin follows the Hughes family’s attempt to escape the horrors of their lives by retreating to their cottage for a long vacation. Six months after the accidental death of their daughter, Mark and Mary’s (Joshua Close and Selma Blair) marriage is in trouble. They try to hide it from their son (Quinn Lord) who seems unaffected by the loss of his sister.
Upon arrival at their gigantic “cottage,” they meet their new neighbors, Bobby and Jane (James D’Arcy and Rachel Miner) who also have a son (Alex Ferris). Instantly, something is off about them. After an awkward introduction, Bobby and Jane are invited over for dinner.
The high point of In Their Skin takes place in the first half of the film. The two families are gathered around the dinner table. The conversation is painfully uncomfortable as Bobby and Jane ask many questions and avoid answering any directed at themselves. After a few minutes of tension, it becomes apparent that this isn’t a conversation but an interrogation. Bobby and Jane are gathering information. Bobby starts slyly repeating Mark’s words like a baby learning to speak. It’s a very quiet and creepy scene that raises the bar too high for the remainder of the film. After this, the film quickly regresses into a fairly standard horror film with screaming, running, blood and sex.
Director Jeremy Power Regimbal lets each uneasy moment breathe nicely. He seems to go out of his way to avoid cheap scares and never lets the camera work distract from the performances.
All of the actors pull their own weight. James D’Arcy’s versatile performance carries the film nicely, though he does dive a bit too far into an evil villain stereotype as the film progresses. Any sympathy for his character is gone by the end of the film. Joshua Close, who also wrote the film, plays a very introverted lawyer who doesn’t get much room to emote. This subtlety makes him a great counterpoint to D’Arcy.
In Their Skin brings up an interesting question about what is more effective in horror films, the unknown or the obvious? The subtlety of the unknown is effective because it relies on more than just adrenaline and reflexes. The visceral elements of slasher films are effective in generating scares, but they don’t hold much weight after their initial appearance. The horror of subtlety comes from deep within your brain. You absorb every moment in hopes of understanding every scene and it sticks with you for a long time.
Unfortunately, In Their Skin drops the subtlety and lays all the horror cards out on the table as the film reaches its climax.
I give In Their Skin 3 “dog collars” out of 5.
by Matt Glass