Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Jeremy Power Regimbal
Writer: Josh Close
Producer: Justin Tyler Close, Jeremy Power Regimbal
Stars: Selma Blair, Josh Close, James D’Arcy, Rachel Miner, Quinn Lord, Alex Ferris
A remote cottage getaway for the Hughes family becomes a home invasion horror when another family tries to assume their identities.
“In Their Skin” deftly strafes through a tension-filled minefield for a first half dripping with heightened suspense and nervous expectation. And then all of that careful maneuvering unspools after tripping a claymore and limping wounded through the remainder of its back half.
Mark and Mary Hughes have a troubled marriage stemming from the unfortunate death of their young daughter. Along with son Brendon, the Hughes hope to find some solace at their remote family cottage. Unfortunately, their vacation turns into a nightmare when another family intrudes on their doorstep. More than just annoying neighbors, the Sakowskis have a plan to replace Mark, Mary, and Brendon as the new Hughes family.
Bob Sakowski is a devious genius. With their marriage crumbling, Mark and Mary Hughes need time to concentrate on their own family before they can put their attention towards anyone else. But Bob has a way of bending the unwritten rules of social mores just enough that Mark and Mary are forced to entertain the Sakowskis, lest they themselves turn into the ones with worse manners.
It starts when Bob, his wife Jane, and his son Jared wake Mark and Mary one morning by noisily loading firewood onto the Hughes’ back porch. A minor annoyance, Mark can only chastise Bob so much about the early hour when the intention was merely to provide a welcoming gift. After finagling an invite to dine with the Hughes, Bob and Jane find new ways to inject gradual degrees of discomfort into Mark and Mary’s lives.
As a gag, Bob wears Mark’s glasses, and then does not take them off. Intrusive questions and evasive answers at the dinner table raise concerns about Bob and Jane’s intentions, although it is not clear to the Hughes if perhaps the Sakowskis just lack a mannered etiquette. Their behavior is just strange enough to spin the wheels of suspicion, but it is never so outrageous that a loud warning bell is warranted.
“In Their Skin” slowly weaves the underlying menace with carefully timed skill. Tracking shots through the house innocently reveal every blind corner and curtain-less window. It is an immersive feeling of vulnerability and exposure, although to what, no one can be certain.
And then like one of those tracking shots, the film turns its own corner and becomes something different. The Sakowskis have an air of mystery that hints at something indefinable, and that fuels the suspense. But once their intentions are revealed, it turns out that the anticipation of what might be coming was more satisfying than the reality.
The title of the movie is a bald reveal of what Bob hopes to accomplish by interfering with the Hughes’ quiet getaway. Once that curtain pulls back, Bob trades his unreadable expression for a presence more becoming of a Bond villain. Oddly, he struts in front of the captive family with a shotgun perched triumphantly on his shoulder, as if reveling in his plot to control the hemisphere’s stock exchange by manipulating a nuclear power grid. The abrupt introduction of swagger to his threat upheaves the subtle tone that had been working so well.
At this point, “In their Skin” rolls down a spiral that never delivers the payout promised by the strong first half. Needless efforts to add depravity to Bob’s already deplorable personality include a confusing scene of forced marital sex and over-the-top character traits like slow clapping for said sex performance.
Mark and Mary also fight each other over who can mope the longest, with Selma Blair’s raccoon eyed makeup turning her more into Annie Lennox than a grieving mother. The movie waits until a bathroom scene at the midway point to infuse a smile and semblance of family unity, which is a strange moment given the guns pointed on the other side of the door. The result is that rooting for the Hughes to repair their relationship is given too thin a motivation once the surrounding circumstances take control of the spotlight.
The film then closes on a dubious note. Director Jeremy Power Regimbal and screenwriter (and lead actor) Josh Close were likely going for an uplifting beat after 90 minutes of hostage at home horror. But the conclusion reads like a questionable moral message that champions trauma as a means of emotional healing. Perhaps it is fitting that similar to the Sakowskis and the Hughes, the tight drama of the top half finds itself replaced with an inferior latter half missing the essential components to capably assume its intended role.
NOTE: "In Their Skin" is also known by the title “Replicas.”
Review Score: 60