FEARNET Movie Review: 'In Their Skin'


The list of "home invasion" horror flicks has added some rather impressive new titles over the past several years. Obviously both versions of Michael Haneke's Funny Games proved to be fairly influential to a lot of independent filmmakers who realized you could wring a lot of tension out of one house, a handful of actors, and (hopefully) a halfway compelling premise. Movies like The Strangers, Inside, and Them did a fine job of adding a few new wrinkles to a pretty simple story, and now that the sub-genre has died down a bit, up pops a quiet new chiller from Canada called In Their Skin. Also known as Replicas (on the film festival circuit, anyway), this is a rather standard re-telling of a slight but effective premise, and this time around it's not a new "hook" that sells the film, but a simply intelligent screenplay, several strong performances, and an admirable amount of "percolating" tension that keeps even the familiar stuff enticing.

The plot is both simple and strangely familiar: Mary and Mark are still reeling from the accidental death of their little girl, so they (along with their pre-teen son) retreat to a rather swanky family cabin in the middle of nowhere. Their isolation is promptly interrupted by the awkward arrival of their new neighbors, the Sakowskys, who think it's a great idea to treat Mary and Mark to a bunch of firewood in the middle of the night. It gets weirder. Needless to say that Bobby, Jane, and their own pre-teen son are up to no good, but here's where first-time director Jeremy Regimbal has some fun with his screenplay: an uncomfortable dinner party between both families ends with an unpleasant altercation, and that's when the wheels come off.
To say more would spoil the small handful of surprises that the script has to offer, and while you may have a little trouble swallowing the Sakowskys ultimate goal, it still makes for a slightly more socially relevant motive than simply "crazy guy wants to kill family." It doesn't hurt matters that all four leads are quite excellent: Selma Blair and Josh Close (who also wrote the screenplay) provide us with wealthy characters who are worthy of our empathy almost immediately (which isn't easy in this type of movie), and as the "bad" couple we're offered an intense James D'Arcy and the angelic yet slightly askew Rachel Miner, both of whom strike a weird chemistry together and deliver fine moments individually. (Ms. Blair delivers some of her finest work in years, truth be told.)
What's most interesting about In Their Skin is not the inevitable siege that takes place, or even the few moments of shocking violence that punctuate the tension. We've seen those things in several similar movies. What makes In Their Skin more worthwhile than just another sub-genre knock-off is that it has some slyly compelling things to say about fate, perspective, and the importance of one's own identity. There's a reason that the invaders look just like our victims, and it's there that In Their Skin finds some room for a bit of novelty inside of a fairly conventional presentation. The performances help a lot, as do the subtle score and the calm, confident cinematography, but it's in the "food for thought" department that In Their Skin avoids being just another "family under siege" flick.