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'In Their Skin' Movie Review

About.com Rating 2.5 Star Rating

By

'In Their Skin' movie poster
© IFC
When I was a kid, the films I found scariest were ghost and monster movies, but as I grew up and became a family man with more to lose, I began to feel increasingly affected by more "realistic" horror, and few horror flicks are as terrifying in their realism as "home invasion" movies. Films like The Strangers, Funny Games and Them don't base their fright in the fantastic, but rather in the possibility that such an invasive atrocity might happen to you. Their villains aren't supernatural creatures; they're just like you and me, except they have a sociopathic desire to torment and a demented willingness to kill. The latest entry in this nerve-wracking sub-genre is In Their Skin, a movie that follows -- somewhat derivatively -- in its predecessor's footsteps.

The Plot

Following the tragic death of their young daughter, Mark (Joshua Close) and Mary (Selma Blair) Hughes retreat to the isolated country home that's been in Mark's family for generations. Along with their 8-year-old son Brendan (Quinn Lord), they settle in for what they hope will be a quiet time of healing. Barely a day into their stay, however, their peace is disturbed by a curious family of three who say they've recently moved into a nearby house.

Bob (James D'Arcy) and Jane Zakowski (Rachel Miner) and their (supposedly) 9-year-old son Jared (Alex Ferris) drop by to welcome the them to the neighborhood, cordially but assertively inviting themselves to dinner at the Hughes' home that evening. Wary but not wanting to seem impolite, Mark agrees, but once the dinner begins, it doesn't take long for him to regret his choice. The Zakowskis are off-putting, grilling them on the intimate details of their lives while remaining evasive about their own background. The tone throughout the night becomes increasingly dark, and when Mark decides to kick his guests out, their true intentions become clear: they want the Hughes' lives as their own, and they're willing to go to any extreme for that goal.

The End Result

Joshua Close and Selma Blair in 'In Their Skin'.

Joshua Close and Selma Blair in 'In Their Skin'.

© IFC
Playing like part Funny Games and part The Strangers, In Their Skin provides a bit more rationale for the actions of its psychopaths than those films, but it never takes full advantage of the intriguing premise of a deranged family that wants to steal another's (seemingly perfect) identity and lifestyle. The details of how exactly they intend to pull that off remain vague, so the plan ends up being more of a symbolic one that encapsulates the division of the haves and have-nots -- not unlike the Mother's Day remake.

The buildup is delicious, thanks to some pointed dialogue and the unnerving performances of the antagonists, particularly James D'Arcy as the patriarch who rides the line between patronizingly polite and explosively violent. However, once the open hostilities begin, In Their Skin falls into a familiar rut, traveling down predictable paths and pulling out one genre cliché after another. The result is a toothless home invasion retread that lacks the sheer terror of The Strangers and the provocative nature of Funny Games.

Because these types of films invite you to put yourself in the shoes of the protagonists, they can prove frustrating, and In Their Skin has more than its fair share of aggravations. Botched escape attempts, illogical strategy and maddening timidity from the victims make for an eye-rolling affair, and even the villains' actions -- why not just kill the whole family right away? -- are cause for wonder. I think we're supposed to sympathize with the Zakowskis on some level, but it's hard to do when they're clearly well off their respective rockers.

For all its faults, In Their Skin remains fairly engaging because of its stellar cast and because first-time director Jeremy Power Regimbal maintains a sense of humanity and drama throughout, even though the ending wraps up too neatly in an aw-shucks manner.

The Skinny

  • Acting: B+ (D'Arcy, Miner and Ferris steal the show as the lunatic trio.)
  • Direction: C+ (Nice buildup and sense of humanity, but lacks thrills.)
  • Script: D+ (A good concept devolves into predictability, illogic and an unnecessary feel-good button of an ending.)
  • Gore/Effects: C (Little to speak of.)
  • Overall: C (An interesting setup and tense first half go nowhere in the disappointing second half.)

In Their Skin is directed by Jeremy Power Regimbal and is not rated by the MPAA. Release date: November 9, 2012 (October 4 on demand).

Disclosure: The distributor provided free access to this movie for review purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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