In Their Skin - Review
With a film like In Their Skin, a.k.a. Replicas, you already know how things are going to unfold. It's a home invasion thriller, a genre that has been popular for several decades, with a huge debt also to the likes of Halloween, Black Christmas, and other horror films of that ilk. In recent years there's been the shot-for-shot remake of Funny Games, a film that In Their Skin happily borrows from, going as far as to reproduce entire scenes and situations with a few minor alterations.
Even knowing what you're in for, director Jeremy Power Regimbal sets up the movie rather well. Selma Blair and Joshua Close (who also wrote the screenplay), are a couple trying to salvage their marriage following the death of their daughter in some, as yet, unexplained accident. Along with their son Brendon, they decide to head to their holiday cottage for some much needed rest and recuperation. However, things don't go so well when they end up sharing a meal with their eccentric neighbours.
Along with Michael Haneke's Funny Games, the opening half hour or so practically screams Lars Von Trier's Anti-Christ. The tone, style, setting, even the story, bar some minor alterations, has the scent of Trier's movie. Regimbal handles the introduction of the "other" family well enough, and the script, along with the careful direction, steadily cranks up the tension. All of this is helped immensely by James D'Arcy, who plays Bobby Sakowski, injecting his performance with equal parts menace and dark comedy.
It's surprising that In Their Skin is only just over ninety minutes long, it feels much longer. Regimbal milks the tension during the first half for all its worth, even going a bit overboard with the slowness of it. There's some po-faced self-indulgence here, which again links it to Anti-Christ, as it begins to hop between art-house movie clichés, and dialogue pauses so long that you could shove a truck between them. However, it's once the film has reached its mid-point that things truly fall apart.
All of the tension gives way to one stupid decision after another. There's a wonderful simplicity to the Sakowski family's menace; they slash the tires of the family car and cut the phone lines, but the film never manages to capitalise on it in any meaningful way. The film slows to a crawl in what should be its most climatic segment, as each attempt by the Hughes family to escape is met with failure, largely due to the fact that their son is incapable of even attempting to move away from danger. Even a (typical) third-act complication, as another family member turns up at the cottage to surprise them, is a ham-fisted attempt to establish some more tension but just goes to kill the film's pace even further.
In Their Skin builds itself up on the basis of the twist it's preparing. Unfortunately, rather than go out with a bang, we're left with a dull whimper, as the twist revelation is hilariously overcooked and has nowhere near the impact that Regimbal and Close seem to think it'll have. Nothing prior to the reveal foreshadows, or even establishes, why the Sakowski's unveiled motive is something so important. It attempts to tie in the two strands of plot (the daughter's death and the family's attack) but instead proceeds to further sap the film of any energy, not to mention leave the audience with bemused expressions. There's even several other revelations about the various characters which just seems pointless and rather silly, just adding to the pointless confusion of the film's last half hour. Left without any unique ending, the film just peters out and renders it identical to a host of other home invasion films, but with poor pacing to boot.
Despite the numerous problems, it's more a creative misfire than an outright failure. The first half of the movie is moderately effective, and despite being heavily reliant on other films to develop its atmosphere, it makes for engaging enough viewing. It's not the tension building, but what to do with that tension, that both Regimbal and the script struggle to deal with. With some more work this could have been a solid addition to the genre, as it stands, there's plenty better alternatives to choose from.
In Their Skin was released, in the UK, on May 27th.
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