Toronto After Dark, Day 8: In Their Skin
In Their Skin opens at night on a man, dressed down to his underwear and socks, running for his life. Clearly not an athlete of any sort, he stumbles and falls to the ground, his legs giving out on him. From behind him, a man exits a car and casually approaches, shotgun in hand. The ensuing shot is only heard, not seen, as this is a home invasion thriller not focused on the violence, but rather the psychological impact of its events.
Mark and Mary Hughes, played by Joshua Close and Selma Blair, need an escape from their lives for a while. After the tragic accidental death of their daughter, their marriage is fraying, and they travel up to their vacation home in the woods to find some solitude and, hopefully, peace. With them is their remaining child, Brendan, and his dog. On the first morning of their stay they encounter new neighbours Bobby and Jane, and their son Jared, who bear a striking resemblance to their own family.
This is a film split into two fairly distinct parts. The first is a delightful exercise in discomfort. Bobby and Jane seem nice, but their small talk is overly personal, their questions a little too specific and exceeding the social trust that has been built. As social creatures, the audience squirms a little along with the Hughes as they struggle to remain civil. One would assume the viewer has some foreknowledge of the film, and is aware of what is going on as they observe this game of conversational cat and unwitting mouse.
The second part of the film, once their plight becomes clear, dips into more standard home invasion fare, but with a few jolts and twists to keep things fresh.
What really makes In Their Skin stand out is the realism present in the script. The audience is in on it from the start, leaving primarily the dialogue to keep things interesting, and it does not disappoint. Everyone involved acts like rational human beings, allowing us to really become invested in the events as they occur. We wince every time the Hughes reveal another detail about their lives, or notice the neighbours quietly imitating their unconscious movements.
The acting here is superb on all fronts. Close and Blair are downcast and utterly believable as the distressed couple, tragedy still etched on their faces. The real delight are James D’Arcy and Rachel Miner as the neighbours, whose performances are disconcertingly off-kilter and subtly creepy. I was particularly impressed with Miner, who is genuinely terrifying here, her smiles belying a tenuous grip on reality making her every action unpredictable.
Despite a somewhat conventional second half, In Their Skin has enough smarts and some great performances that make it worth checking out. You may never look at your neighbours the same way again. 3.5 out of 5 stars.