November 9, 2012 (US DVD)
Selma Blair as Mary
Joshua Close as Mark
James D'Arcy as Bobby
Rachel Miner as Jane
Quinn Lord as Brendon
Alex Ferris as Jared
Everybody has some kind of turmoil in their lives; their own dramas and heartbreaks that can consume their thoughts and become the central focus of life. No matter how bad things seem, though, there is always someone who would kill for that life because it’s so much better than his or her own meager existence. That’s the thought, at least, in the IFC Midnight film In Their Skin (Formerly knowns as “Replica“) starring Selma Blair (Hellboy, The Fog, Columbus Circle) and writer Joshua Close (The Plague, Diary of the Dead, The Day the Earth Stood Still).
Mary (Blair) and Mark (Close) are having some marital troubles, and spending some time with their son Brendon (Quinn Lord) in the family cottage in the country seems like the perfect way to make a new start. Things haven’t been good since their daughter Tess died tragically by being hit by a car a year before, and communication in the serene countryside is just what the doctor ordered. The place is beautiful, secluded, and peaceful, until the peace is disrupted one early morning by a family stacking wood right outside their bedroom window.
It turns out the wood stackers live down the road, and although the family, Bob (James D’Arcy), Jane (Rachel Miner) and Jared (Alex Ferris) are all pretty weird and unnatural, Mark feels obligated to invite them to dinner. Dinner is awkward at best, with very personal questions being asked and strange answers being returned, and ultimately Mark asks them to leave when the visiting boy attacks Mary and Mark’s son during a video game exchange. As it turns out, asking them to leave was not the best idea, as these people converge on their hosts with guns, determined to assume their “perfect” lives.
In Their Skin knocked ‘em dead at the Tribecca Film Festival, and this thriller was picked by IFC Midnight for distribution. The film is well shot and features convincing performances by the stars Blair and Close, as well as from the psycho-family of D’Arcy, Miner and Ferris. Much of the action is subtle in the first 2/3 of the film, making it obvious that there is certainly something “off” about these particular dinner guests. When the party progresses to shotguns, forced fornication and complete identity assuming psychosis… that’s when things really get going.
One of the big wins of this film is in the suspense. The tension slowly builds, reaching nearly unbearable as it becomes clear that this family has more on their minds than dessert. If there is a weakness, it is that the climax lacks some of the intensity of the scenes leading up to it. In the vein of the Saw franchise, however, life-threatening strife can also promote self-reflection and an assessment of the perceived pains of one’s own life, and the resolve of our heroes in terms of guarding their lives as well as their pride is tested greatly.
In Their Skin is more “suspense/thriller” than horror, but the uncomfortable nature of the film puts it more in the vein of Hitchcock suspense than a mainstream thriller. Frankly, non-horror audiences may not have the stomach for this particular variety of gut wrenching, but then the peak of the audience pain comes and goes fast enough that mainstream moviegoers may not notice it much. It would have been nice to get the audience to the point of squirming, and then keep them there for a while to wallow in it rather than ratcheting down the tension so quickly. The culprit here is the development of the psychotic acts perpetrated by the rogue family after they finally make their stand and settle in for the after-party. There are certainly horrible things that happen, and frankly some sick things happen also, but they don’t build on one and other very well, at least from the tension point of view.
Selma Blair, who can be seen in films dating back to 1996, is an actress who has yet to be sufficiently utilized to highlight her talents. I’m revealing a “guilty pleasure” here, but the first time I saw Ms. Blair was in the Reese Witherspoon film Legally Blonde, and she was hardly noticeable. Unfortunately Blair’s career since then, although relatively prolific, is still that of an “also ran” type of character without the kind of depth of a leading lady. In Their Skin shows a Selma Blair that I have not seen before; Blair is beautiful, feminine, strong, vulnerable and complex. Granted, there are really just flashes of this “inner Blair”, but the qualities of a performer who is poised to take the world by certainly exist should she find the right role, and dig deep enough in portraying it. I can say now, for the first time, I am a bonafide Selma Blair fan, and will be watching her progressing career with great interest going forward.
In Their Skin is a good independent offering, and lives up to the Indie ideal in that the story is not pat or formulaic, the performances are strong, and the themes fall outside of the typical mainstream sensibility. Selma Blair is a stand out, and the act of venturing outside in the dark brings a level of tension that rivals Hitchcock’s finest. This film may or may not knock your socks off, but certainly after viewing nobody will feel they’ve wasted their time.