The home-invasion horror-thriller subgenre is very nearly as rampant as the current found-footage fad, but as with any kind of movie, the secret to success is in the level of skill and intelligence with which it is done. Taking this into account, "In Their Skin" ranks up there with 2008's "The Strangers
" and 2007's "Funny Games
" in terms of its jittery, supremely uncomfortable potency. It helps that the onscreen family, already in crisis long before sociopaths enter their lives, are so credible and sympathetic, their dynamic and the way they initially react to off-kilter outsiders intruding upon their turf instantly identifiable. First-time director Jeremy Power Regimbal and screenwriter Josh Close generally stick to formula, but change the details up enough for its familiarity to not overwhelm the hair-raising journeys of its characters. That the film ultimately reveals itself to be about redemption and the process of healing over hopelessly succumbing to evil also gives the proceedings an added layer of worth and freshness.
Still grappling with the recent death of their young daughter, Mary (Selma Blair) and Mark (Josh Close) travel to their family's country home with 8-year-old son Brendon (Quinn Lord) in the hopes of spending some much-needed private time together. The morning after a strange encounter with a truck that pulls up to their property's gate before driving off, they are woken by neighbors Bob (James D'Arcy) and Jane (Rachel Miner) and their 9-year-old son Jared (Alex Ferris), who have brought over firewood as a kindly gesture. Something is a little off about them, but they seem harmless enough that Mark doesn't think much of it when they more or less invite themselves over for dinner. From there, Bob and Jane make no bones about butting into Mark's and Mary's business. They appear to be the ideal family, and it isn't long before they've decided they want to become them. Literally.
"In Their Skin" is nothing if not exceedingly skillful in placing an uneasy pall over the viewer just as it descends on Mary, Mark and Brendon. From the opening scenes, the stark cinematography by Norm Li (2012's "Beyond the Black Rainbow
") paints a desolate, claustrophobic picture of their surroundings, where no one could hear them for miles around if they were to need immediate help. When Bob, Jane and Jared come over for dinner, the prying questions that are asked of the hosts are intimate and invasive long before more sinister intentions are revealed. When the other shoe does dropand, yes, the family dog is naturally the first one to gothe tone only grows more chilly and unsparing. Through this ordeal, however, is the very real sense that Mary, Mark and Brendon realize what it is they stand to lose if they don't find a way to fight for their survival.
"In Their Skin" is frightening, but also, in its own way, inspiring. Performances are top-notch throughoutin her career, the underrated Selma Blair (2012's "Dark Horse
") has rarely been asked to delve into such raw emotions, while Rachel Miner (2007's "Tooth and Nail
") is close to unforgettable as the meekest of the invaders, a woman who incessantly apologizes while fearfully going along with all that her lunatic "husband" doesand everything comes to a boil in time for a finale that surprisingly shifts from the conclusive norm of these kinds of films. "In Their Skin" isn't reinventing the language of cinema or anything of that sort, but it is very good all the same at putting its audience in the place of a family whose identities, as well as lives, are at stake. There is a reason they must never give up, and it is this newfound drive that ends up being their emotional savior.