Saturday, 18 May 2013

In Their Skin, dir. Jeremy Power Regimbal, wr. Joshua Close, st. Selma Blair, Joshua Close, Rachel Miner, James D'Arcy

Despite its promising pedigree (Miner - a talent who's never quite found her niche, the ever dependable Blair, and Hitchcock's Anthony Perkins - D'Arcy), Regimbal's In Their Skin never quite delivers in the way one would hope. It's an oft-exclaimed lament in these kind of unsettling spookers and something I've written about extensively before; the payoff never quite manages to do justice to the setup. Part of the problem, I suspect, is convention. We've been brought up on a rich and varied diet of genre lexicon. Our knowledge of what can happen is extensive, our belief in what should happen grows narrower with every failed attempt or tired cliché. And yet still these kind of films are churned out, each brief more outlandish and refreshing than the next, but all (ok, most) with the same tedious denouement that undoes the often brilliant establishing of the film's first act. In Their Skin is essentially one of those chillers categorised under "Home Invasion", and yes, predictably, there's much here to get the skin prickling - at least in the film's early stages. Close (in a film of his own penning) and Blair play Mark and Mary Hughes, who along with their young son Brendan (Quinn Lord), have decided to do the one thing you most definitely don't do to overcome a family bereavement, and hightail it to a remote house in the woods in order to grieve, and for the adults to fix their fractured relationship. This is no balmy Summer-house retreat however. In steely greys and teals Norm Li's pallid cinematography focusses on sterile earthy tones and the clinical chill of overcast skies and breath exhaled. It's a rather bleak reminder  of how unhealthy the very human instinct for solitude that follows trauma is. There may also be a touch of a Haneke-like dig at middle-class first-world problems in the opulent setting of the Hughes' rather grand country house complete with conservatory and PS3d kid's bedroom. It's a detail invasive tabloids love to illustrate - tragedy strikes even the rich! - and serves to highlight the voyeurism at watching a family heal. Then, with grace and immeasurable politeness, the Sakowski's appear, not in the dead of night as grotesques might, but more unsettlingly, in the early mist of dawn, stacking wood as a gift for the newcomers. They live down the way and want to ingratiate themselves with their new temporary neighbours. D'Arcy is great here, welcoming to the point of unease, and Miner too, mousy and courteous. It reminded me of that great British suspicion we have of others' graciousness. D'Arcy in particular has great fun with the clever script, a kind of aural slight of hand that has us questioning intonation and tone. Alas it cannot last and once the film shifts into the next gear, the deft intricacies of narration and character unravel fast. It's not a bad film - and these kinds of films often are - but it's terribly unfulfilling, and only adds to the list of squandered opportunities. Watching In Their Skin once more extends our cinematic vernacular for these kind of psychological thrillers, but in doing so, only makes it harder for that elusive innovative horror - whenever it may appear - to make an impact.