Saturday, November 10, 2012

In Their Skin (2012) : Thou Shalt Not Covet...

Is there anything more frightening than a home invasion? While examples of this sub-genre of horror have been done several times before - with many of those films being top notch - there always seems to be room for more fear-inducing cinematic outings of this nature.

In previous movies like Funny Games (both the original in 1997 and the remake version of 2007), À l'intérieur (a.k.a. Inside, 2007), Ils (a.k.a. Them, 2006), and the eerily effective 2008 film The Strangers, they have scared people shitless and made many think twice about being alone in an isolated home out in the boondocks.

But there is one thing I can say about these types of films. They scare me.  After all, what is more frightening that someone breaking into your home (and your life) and wreaking havoc? It's a primal fear in all of us - being invaded, hurt, even possibly killed - in our own home.  The thought of that fractures us to our very being - because we're supposed to be safe in the comfort of our own home, right?

All of the above referenced titles have made me so uneasy - so tense - that I couldn't get them out of my head for days after I watched them. So when I was given the opportunity to see the newest home-invasion flick, the IFC Midnight production  In Their Skin, I jumped on it.

Directed by Jeremy Power Regimbal and starring Selma Blair, Josh Close, James D'Arcy, and Rachel Miner, In Their Skin starts out quiet, with subtle nuances that map out a family's grief and recent heartache. We find out early-on that the Hughes family is struggling to put their lives back together after the death of their young daughter, and have come up to their rather swanky family cottage in the woods to attempt to get back to the normalcy that is their life. We are privy to the fact that a couple's marriage is skating on thin ice and this might be their last chance at redeeming happiness.

When they are awakened very early one morning by loud noises in their yard, Mark (Close, who also co-wrote the film) is startled to find a couple and their son rooting around in their yard.  They introduce themselves as the The Sakowskis, a family "just down the lane".  They have come to the Hughes house to meet their neighbors and bring them some fire wood. Huh?? After a blundering conversation that is more awkward than neighborly, the Sakowski's have somehow invited themselves to dinner at the Hughes'.  Believe me when I say: it is obvious to anyone watching that something is just not right with the Sakowskis - which the Hughes' are about to find out. 

Bobby (D'Arcy), Jane (Miner) and their son Jared (Alex Ferris) show up for dinner and eagerly  meet Mark's wife Mary (Blair) and son Brendon (Quinn Lord).  Almost immediately Bobby begins to ask personal (verging on intimate) questions about Mark and Mary's lives.  Jane is a mousy, ungraceful stray that takes all her cues from Bobby - who scolds her on occasion for doing or saying inappropriate things. It's obvious that she doesn't think for herself for fear of heinous repercussions. The dinner is disastrous, and the tension between the two couples could be cut with a knife. The conversation turns towards all the blessings that have been bestowed upon the Hughes family due to their well-paying careers and affluent lifestyles. Jealousy rears its ugly head oh so gingerly, but it is apparent that the Sakowski's are green-eyed and anxious to live their own lives like Mark and Mary.
Soon, Jared and Brendon head upstairs when Bobby suggests they check out Brendon's room, giving the adults the opportunity to become even more uncomfortable.

Bobby spills wine on himself seemingly on purpose, and is happy to be able to take his shirt off and replace it with one of Mark's.  As if this isn't weird enough, we soon are privy to the two boys upstairs activities, which ends up including Jared holding a knife to Brendon's throat. Screaming ensues, children are comforted, and the Sakowski's are asked to leave - nicely at first, then forcefully when it seems they don't want to make their exit.

Things take a hideous turn for the worse when the family dog is let outside after the Sakowski's have left.  A gunshot is heard, and then another - and Mark urges his family to hide out in the bathroom while he checks it out. Needless to say, the next thing we know, Bobby and Co. are back and ready to take over.  And I'm being completely literal here.  In a twist that is different than most other home invasion horror movies, it appears that Bobby and Jane don't just want to invade the Hughes' home - they want to live their lives.  There is a very chilling scene just after a violent outburst in which we see Jane imitate Mary with an intentional yet uncanny creepiness that makes the bizarre couple's intent glaringly obvious.

In Their Skin isn't breaking any molds here within the home invasion sub-genre, but what it does have going for it is fine performances by all the leads. I didn't even recognize Rachel Miner right away - the last thing I'd seen her in was Penny Dreadful (2006). James D'Arcy is a British actor whose next role is as Anthony Perkins in the upcoming Hitchcock (2012).  He's got crazy down pretty good here in this film, his Bobby is so eerily bizarre, so disturbing, that it sets the stage for the entire film. And though I've never thought much about Selma Blair's acting ability, I've reconsidered and would have to say this may be some of her most honest work.

If I were to find a fault with In Their Skin, it may be the almost unbearably slow pace.  I'm all for building tension - and this film has it in spades - but there is so much quiet time here that when you do have a bit of violence it can be a bit off-putting. But the suspense is palpable and causes an anxiety that doesn't show up in most horror films. The reason for that is simple: it could happen to you. And just as The Strangers warned us before, the reason could simply be because you were home.

In Their Skin opened in limited release November 9th.


Hey! Look Behind You! said...

This movie really creeped me out. It was bad enough that the crazed couple intended to kill the family but wanting to study them and get every mannerism down gave me the jeebies.

Christine Hadden said...

Nicki: I agree, this film had just that extra little smidge of creepiness that sets it apart from most home invasion films. Most just want to flat-out kill the home-owners. In this case, the invaders just wanted to BE the owners. Utterly bizarre!