In most cases, home invasion movies have a way of getting under my skin more than other horror or thriller films, just because they are much more personal to me. Anyone who’s ever come home to find that someone else has been in their house – or is perhaps still there – knows that the feeling of violation and fear in that initial moment of discovery and realization never truly goes away. There is a sense of lost control – of having been victimized in a very personal and intimate way – that can leave people feeling as though they’ve been laid bare, whether anything was physically stolen from them, or not. The simple fact is that a sense of security has been lost, and a feeling of privacy has been invaded, and often times those are the intangible things you can’t regain once they’ve been taken from you.
So yeah, I went into the Toronto premiere screening of In Their Skin last night fully expecting to enjoy it, and be made uncomfortable by it, and hopefully still be able to go home and sleep after it was over. It actually didn’t help at ALL that, when I got home, my cats were strangely NOT there to greet me at the door, since they usually play the role of starving orphan and I can hear them from the hallway. Apparently, however, I had caught them in the midst of a nap, and they just hadn’t roused themselves in time to beat me to the door this particular evening. For the most part, though, I was okay – and while I enjoyed In Their Skin, I was tired enough to just go to sleep after it was done.
Director Jeremy Power Regimbal’s film introduces us to the Hughes family, Mark (Joshua Close), Mary (Selma Blair) and their young son, Brendon (Quinn Lord) as they drive to their remote cottage to spend some time together and grieve the loss of their daughter, Tess. It’s immediately apparent that this family is in crisis, but that they are all doing their best to hold things together and find a way to heal. A vacation together seems like the best idea, and the hope is that Mark and Mary can find their way back to one another as a married couple once again.
They arrive at the cottage a few weeks before most part-time residents are due to arrive for the summer, and the entire area is chilly and grey, but quiet, and with the promise of new growth and re-birth that comes with spring. From the first night, things seem a little off, however, as the trio take the family dog out for a walk on the grounds, and encounter a station wagon sitting outside their gate with its motor running and headlights piercing the dark. They stare as the occupants of the car seem to be staring back, watching them, until it just as abruptly pulls away and disappears into the night.
Early the next morning, Mark and Mary are awakened by a commotion outside, and Mark heads downstairs to discover its source. Turns out that their new neighbours have decided to stock up their woodpile for them, and all three are merrily unloading wood from a rickety old wagon they brought along with them. Bobby (James D’Arcy), Jane (Rachel Miner) and their allegedly-nine-but-looks-more-like-thirteen-year-old son, Jared (Alex Ferris) are beyond friendly and eager to make friends with the Hughes’, but something about them seems a little “off”. They ask a lot of questions, and don’t seem to pick up on social cues very well. they manage to invite themselves over for dinner later (Jane will bring the best salad you’ve ever had), and a tired and confused Mark goes back upstairs to face his wife’s irritation at the whole scenario.
The dinner scene is about as awkward as you can get – Bobby and Jane ask a lot of strange questions, and as both families sit down to eat, you can begin to notice some odd eccentricities – like how each of the Hughes’ mannerisms are starting to be mimicked by their counterparts sitting across the table. Jane does a lot of staring, and Bobby asks several inappropriate questions, but it’s when Jared asks to see Brendon’s room (before they’re even done eating, mind you) that things really start to kick into high gear. The boys go head-to-head in a video game, and Brendon’s delighted to beat Jared several times in a row, leaping to his feet and rubbing it into the other boy’s face about how much he sucks at the game. Naturally – and by that, I mean not naturally at all – Jared pulls a knife and holds it to Brendon’s throat, telling him that he’ll kill him if Brendon says anything other than that Jared won all the games. Brendon agrees, but then runs screaming downstairs in terrified tears and barrels into his mother’s arms. Jared follows close behind, and also cries to his mother about whatever he felt happened upstairs, and all of the adults look at one another with mutual mistrust in their eyes.
The hughes decide to call it a night, and politely thank Bobby and his family for coming over for dinner, but Bobby isn’t quite ready to leave just yet. He flip-flops between a sort of manacing arrogance and gold ol’ boy charm, even going so far as to tell Mark that he’ll see them for dinner at 6 at their place the next day – after Mark has snapped and screamed at him to get out. It’s an uncomfortable thing, at best, to have to abandon all pleasantries just to get someone to leave your home, but Bobby and Jane were not getting the message at ALL. Not even when it couldn’t have been said any more clearly. An awkward dinner turned into an even more awkward goodbye, leaving all of the Hughes feeling somewhat upset and disturbed.
Little did they know, though, that was just the beginning. Bobby and Jane aren’t Bobby and Jane at all. They are whoever they want to be – whoever they believe they are – and right now, they believe they want to be the very perfect Mark and Mary Hughes. In no time, the unsettling evening has turned into the stuff of nightmares, as the Hughes family is held captive in their cottage by the insane yet resourceful couple who want to inhabit their very life. There is only room for one Hughes family, however, and the battle is on to determine which trio will emerge the victor.
Upon leaving the theatre, I overheard one person describe the film as “unsettling”, and I immediately agreed that it was the perfect word for it. Even knowing going in what the basic plot was going to be, D’Arcy and Miner were just freaking CREEPY as the kind of clingy, latched-on people that you can’t seem to extracate yourself from, no matter what you say or do. I’ve known people like that – have probably even been that person – but all to a lesser degree. And, you know, not in a homicidal way. So even as I watched events unfold the way I knew they were going to, it was still difficult to imagine handling it all any differently than the Hughes did. Except I really wanted that smug, demented little Jared kid to get shot in the face before the end. Fabulous actor, that Alex Ferris - but I was really looking forward to him getting a taste of his own evil-spirited medicine.
Was In Their Skin my fave of the fest? No. But did it get under MY skin a little and leave me with some things to think about as I fell asleep last night? Absolutely!
For more on In Their Skin, including the trailer, go here and check out the following links: