Take heed, first-time screenwriters and directors of thriller/horror movies: If your normal, human characters are not behaving like normal human beings would, you might as well let go of any notion your movie is “about” something. Let it go. Make that B-movie or straight-to-home video slasher, slap Alan Smithee on the credit reel and move on. Or I guess you could make In Their Skin.
Amidst a color pallet as dismal as the mood of parents Mary (Selma Blair) and Mark Hughes (screenwriter Josh Close), In Their Skin opens with a small family—including inexplicably chipper 9-year-old son (Quinn Lord)—retreating to their vacation home in the woods following the tragic death of their daughter. Credit the script here, at least, for not announcing with a megaphone that the family is in trouble. It’s transmitted primarily through body language in what are dependably fine performances by Blair and Close. Awoken the following morning by their “neighbors,” the Sakowskis, creepily chopping wood for them, Mark ignores what for anyone else would be the first set of giant exclamation points—which might as well flash across the screen in word balloons—and invites them into his home. (Grieving people are very sociable, after all.)
Ostensibly a home invasion nightmare of Funny Games-ish proportions (if a bit less nihilistic), In Their Skin delivers its softball class warfare anxiety high and outside. Look out, rich people: Poor people will stop at nothing to take what you have! Lower class people: Being rich ain’t as easy as it looks! What’s left of the story is a truckload of horror flick clichés, the most damning of which amounts to padding the running time by having the protagonists willfully ignore the peril that’s literally staring them in the face. One can imagine the exasperation of the Sakowskis—especially predatory, smirking patriarch Bob (James D’Arcy)—as the obvious krazypants menace they are flinging at their hosts is being so consistently, if awkwardly, deflected.
Aside from the cascade of clichés and unrealistic behaviors, In Their Skin does have some bright spots. The cast turns in serviceable-to-exemplary work—in a better film, D’Arcy might have been in danger of being forever after typecast as a serial killer. The effectively chilly cinematography and spare soundtrack are nicely provocative, yet understated. And though the film takes place mostly within one location, In Their Skin has ambiance to spare, which is a credit to the crew and tech. The script’s premise is boilerplate enough to have been worked into an effective thriller, possibly with another pass at the draft (before handing it off to another screenwriter entirely).
Unfortunately, when the explosive finale arrives, the Big Cathartic Scene provides neither shock nor relief. How could it be, when the audience hasn’t really witnessed the behavior of actual people—grief-stricken, psychotic, or otherwise—at any point. The most frustrating thing about Jeremy Power Regimbal’s directorial debut is there’s part of a very effective thriller here. It’s just not the good part.
Director: Jeremy Power Regimbal
Writer: Joshua Close
Starring: Selma Blair, Joshua Close, James D’Arcy
Release Date: Nov. 9, 2012