Written by Joshua Close
Directed by Jeremy Power Regimbal
The home invasion sub genre preys on our basic fear that one can never be too far removed from violence, and that the supposed security one's residence possesses in nothing more than an illusion all to easily shattered. Upcoming IFC Midnight release In Their Skin draws immediate comparison to both Funny Games and The Strangers. Like the latter film, it does a fantastic job building suspense for what you know is inevitably going to follow. However, like Haneke's films the intruders are welcomed in the front door by the unwitting marks. One key difference is the filmmakers aren't making a meta commentary that chastises the audience for enjoying violence, instead opting for a conventional film.
Mark (Joshua Close) and Mary Hughes(Selma Blair) have recently suffered the loss of their precious daughter in an auto accident. Still grieving and distant from one another they retreat with their young son Brendon (Quinn Lord) and dog Harris in tow to their second home, a palatial “cottage” nestled in a rustic area, far removed from any distractions. Rather than pull them together the tranquil setting seems to drive a wedge further between them, as the solitude leaves them both too much time to dwell on the tragedy.
The couple are so lost in despair that the aggressive cheerfulness of their neighbors turning up at an ungodly early morning hour to “drop off firewood” hardly registers. Before the know what hit them the Hughes have opened their home for an impromptu dinner with Bobby (James D'arcy), Jane (Rachel Miner) and their Sasquatch of a son Jared. The dinner grows awkward by leaps as the neighbors start to pry Mark and Mary for intimate details that go way past the appropriate “getting to know one another” stage of dinner conversation. A wonderful and tense scene around the dinner table find the young family answering the bombardment of inquiries in a halting fashion while the wheels begin to spin in their minds that their guests may not be the good samaritans they are passing themselves off as.
The first half of In Their Skin is captivating and does an outstanding job building a dire sense of foreboding. The intruders coat their questions with just enough sugar to play on the Hughes vanity and suspicion that the locals are just a trio of country bumpkins that mean no harm, but are an annoyance they need to suffer for an evening. In his performance as Bobby, D'arcy reveals just enough of himself to the audience to show his true colors as a psychopath while feinting with his “gosh shucks” outward demeanor. You know that this is leading to a very bad place but the Hughes are too powerless to stop or even understand that fact before its too late.
The second half of the film is a more straight forward siege/hostage film with Mark and Mary trying to escape and Bobby revealing his true intentions. It doesn't build on the considerable momentum of its first half. It's not bad per se, it just plays out in a very conventional manner. Mark and Mary are both far too meek to pose much threat to Bobby unless he lets his guard down, so you spend the second half counting down the run time waiting for the inevitable shift. We've seen this before and while Regimbal doesn't make any missteps while hitting the right beats, In Their Skin feels like it's coasting to the big finish.
It doesn't help that that Close and Blair are saddled with unsympathetic characters. They come across as too aloof, judgmental and flat out unlikable to earn investment. They're the kind of family that refer to the five thousand square foot summer property as a “cottage”. While their situation with their deceased daughter acts as a wedge that drives them apart, they react to one another in such a way that makes it hard to believe there was ever any love for one another to begin with. An uncomfortable moment where Mark initiates intimacy with Mary ends with her bursting into tears.
Based on the strength of the first half alone In Their Skin earns a recommendation. It's a step below the best offerings the home invasion sub genre offers, but it still gets the job done with a near perfect first half that builds a rock hard pit in the middle of your stomach.