BUY FROM AMAZON: CLICK HERE!
STUDIO: MPI Home Video
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
A grieving family’s vacation is interrupted by the worst kind of identity thieves (the violent, delusional ones without internet).
Written and directed by Jeremy Power Regimbal, starring Selma Blair, Joshua Close, James D’Arcy, and Rachel Miner.
While home invasion films are always conceptually terrifying, they’re definitely hit or miss. So when one as strong as In Their Skin comes along, it’s not to be slept on. First time director Jeremy Power Regimbal masterfully crafts tension, restrained violence, and strong performances into a 90 minute panic attack that takes the best aspects of the genre and injects them with some wholly original ideas.
Out of all the horror movies and thrillers in all of the world, nothing will ever scare the shit out of me more than the home invasion genre. For me, the concept of some stranger entering the sacred shrine of the home is the ultimate horror, hands-down. Creepy ghost kids and atmospheric haunted houses are frightening, sure, but have one guy burst into the living room with a ski mask and a shotgun and I will instantly soil my trousers. This fear is typically amplified in home invasion movies by having the assailants break in with no apparent motive. Then they just chill out in the house long after subduing the residents. It’s the worst.
Even the lesser films of the genre – like 2011’s flaccid Trespass – still manage to unnerve me. Strong examples like Kidnapped (Secuestrados), The Strangers, and Funny Games are like full-length panic attacks in my world. That being said, I love watching them. They’re definitely not the type of movies I just kick back and absorb. I get physical on these bitches: screaming, squirming, cursing like it’s going out of style.
So I’m happy to say that writer-director Jeremy Power Regimbal’s In Their Skin is a damn fine entry into the genre. From the first frame it masterfully builds up an anxious tone and sets up interesting character relationships based on envy and guilt. Everything about the genre that makes my skin crawl is present, including sexual humiliation and the inevitable death of the dog, but Regimbal infuses some original aspects as well, like a really vile, knife-happy kid that sucks at video games!
After the tragic loss of their daughter in a car accident, Mark and Mary Hughes retreat to their vacation home in the woods with their young son. It’s clear that the accident is causing some major rifts in the marriage – both parents are cold and distant. After settling in, they’re not even there a day when the aggressively friendly neighbors, Bobby and Jane Sakowski, invite themselves over for dinner. The evening starts off really awkward as Bob and Jane frequently state how envious they are of the Hughes family and their home. This uncomfortable dinner quickly escalates to an absolute nightmare when the Sakowskis refuse to leave.
The premise is scary enough, but the performances truly make In Their Skin a noteworthy home invasion horror. As Mark and Mary, Joshua Close and Selma Blair are terrific – although they don’t particularly have a lot of chemistry. This inorganic feel to their relationship does give weight to the distance caused by the loss of their daughter though. Close, who recently had a nice (albeit short) turn on season 4 of Justified, has a tight-faced demeanor suitable for grief. Selma Blair (who I always think was in The Craft, but wasn’t) is at her best throwing biting sarcasms at the Sakowskis. Honestly, Blair is always solid and it’s a shame she isn’t in more films. She’s currently on Charlie Sheen’s Anger Management show. I haven’t seen it, but c’mon, she definitely deserves better than that bullshit.
The real show-stoppers are James D’Arcy and Rachel Miner as the lethally delusional couple Bob and Jane. D’Arcy (who did an excellent job as Anthony Perkins in last year’s Hitchcock despite his short screen time) does creepy psychopath really, really well. I don’t trust anyone who’s over-friendly – they always have that phony-ass, salesman vibe, y’know? And you get that from his character before he even says a word. D’Arcy portrays the killer-with-a-smile with expert grace and brutality. Typecasting is a bitch, but I’d love to see him in more roles like this. Jane is an interesting character that Rachel Miner (Supernatural) pulls off with a disturbingly wide-eyed naiveté. She’s turned off by violence but attempts to mimic and essentially become Mary in gradually creepier ways – like Tom Ripley without all the funding.
Then there’s the knife-happy kid, Jared. He’s the Sakowski’s son and he does a surprising amount of the grunt-work for a boy. Some of the most ass-clenching moments in the film come from this kid shining his blade like he’s in The Hunted. He’s played by 16-year-old actor Alex Ferris, who’s been in a lot of TV shows. Again, the trappings of typecasting can be dangerous, but if you need a creepy kid, call up this Ferris dude. I wanted to slap him and adopt him all at the same time.
Director Regimbal clearly has a finesse for tension. There are no lame jump-scares or needlessly graphic scenes. The most suspenseful moments of In Their Skin are the quiet ones where no one is pointing a gun. In particular, the dinner scene where Regimbal slowly unravels the Sakowski’s dark intentions for the Hughes family is excruciatingly uncomfortable. When it’s time for a bit of the old ultra-violence, Regimbal keeps it believable and restrained.
The only bit that feels out of place in the film is the humiliating pseudo-rape scene. From a strictly monetary standpoint it makes sense that Bob and Jane want to steal the Hughes’ identity. On the other hand, Jane seems to actually want to become Mary – from her mannerisms to wine selection. But Bob’s true motivations seem to be the dough. So the rape scene feels kinda forced and vapid, like Regimbal just wanted to see us squirm. It’s tense as hell, but it doesn’t really fit with everything up until then.
Other than that one minor hiccup, In Their Skin is one solid psychological home invasion thriller that genuinely knocked me on my ass. The acting definitely elevates it above your standard genre fare and Regimbal’s assured directing and confident pacing mark the start of a (hopefully) exciting career. He’s got some producing credits under his belt, but this is his first time directing. You couldn’t ask for a better low-budget debut than this one, so I look forward to seeing what homeboy comes out with next.
The only special feature is a trailer, which is definitely criminal for such a good movie.
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars