Review: Toronto After Dark Film Festival – In Their Skin
From first time director Jeremy Power Regimbal comes In Their Skin, a home invasion thriller with a stellar cast who deliver some great performances. Despite the film’s admittedly dry script and a story which is far from original, In Their Skin delivers on tone and aesthetics, which (cast aside), is the most redeeming feature of this film.
Meet the Hughes family. There is the (possibly) depressed alcoholic mother Mary (Selma Blair). The father, Mark (Joshua Close) who has a secret, or at least a guilt that weighs heavily on him. And finally the son (Quinn Lord) who is just a typical kid with no outstanding qualities, but he does like his video games. They have a beautiful cottage (or second home as most of us would refer to it) which is situated somewhere far from the city they reside in, but the locals appreciate their company and treat them as one of their own.While trying to enjoy some much needed time away, their solitude is interrupted by the Zakowski’s (James D’Arcy, Rachel Miner and Alex Ferris). Following a clumsy introduction, Mark eventually extends an invitation to dinner, which their mysterious and nosy neighbours gladly accept. After an incredibly awkward dinner, events escalate and we see that the Zakowski’s aren’t who they say they are and the Hughes realize they are in for a terrible night.
The first 40 minutes of In Their Skin works incredibly well to build tension, character development and plot. We see how the Hughes interact with one another, see them separately and how they are dealing with whatever it is they have come here to deal with, and more importantly how they are dealing with their imposing neighbours. The character interactions are incredibly realistic, and this is what works best for the film, its realism. The dialogue during the dinner scene in particular is awkward because we know how awkward those situations can be. We laugh because we the audience feel uncomfortable knowing we would probably react much in the same way.
This first portion of the film is also very quiet. There is dialogue and the odd musical notes, but for the most part everything is quit still. As the audience we feel the chill of the Autumn air the same way the characters do through this unnerving quiet and the cool colour palette of the film. One thing director Regimbal has an obvious knack for is colour and design. The colours are natural, cool and organic looking, and rarely do we see a colour that is vibrant. This muting of the palette creates a chilly atmosphere, just watching this film you can feel the cold creeping in on you. The Hughes cottage is something out of Better Homes and Gardens magazine, with its swatches of white that dominate the house, which is stunning in itself. The performances by the cast are believable, especially from the deceiving Zakowski’s who all three are equally twisted and bizarre.
As previously mentioned the first 40 minutes are very tense, however the remainder of the film falls flat and predictable. In Their Skin builds all its tension early on in the film, but somewhere something went wrong and what is left was rather boring and dull. It’s a game of constantly waiting for something to happen, for the something big to be revealed, but it just seems as though it never really happens. I found myself caring for neither the Hughes’ nor the Zakowski’s, my only thoughts were that I just wanted something to happen to someone, which, it never really does.
The home invasion genre is a tricky one to do well. When it works it can be a terrifying thing to witness (such as the disturbing and violent film The Strangers), shocking the audience and providing just enough genuine creeps to make us squirm. Or even to double check our locks before heading to bed. Take Michael Haneke’s truly unsettling Funny Games as an example of where this type of film works incredibly well. We see yet another affluent family fall victim to their insane attackers, but Haneke makes sure that its outcome is both unnerving and disturbing to watch.
In Their Skin had such potential. From its creepy trailer and even into the first portion of the film it felt promising. Despite the performances and the beautiful location, this film is rather far from the thriller it (and I) wanted it so badly to be.
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