This is reductive and unfair and I’m going to feel bad for saying it, but “In Their Skin” could be described as “Funny Games” lite. The scenario is similar to the one in Michael Haneke’s infamous home-invasion thriller, though with key differences in the details and in the execution. “In Their Skin” (which originally screened under the title “Replicas”) is less intense, more mainstream, not as hard to watch. And you don’t feel like the filmmaker is scolding you for enjoying it. OK, maybe the films don’t have anything in common beyond the basic premise. Shoot. I told you I would regret saying it.
Mark and Mary Hughes (played by Joshua Close and Selma Blair) are headed to their vacation cottage in the woods, accompanied by their 9-year-old son, Brendon (Quinn Lord), and still mourning the loss of their daughter. She was a “little blond angel,” according to the kindly old man at the country store, who knows the Hugheses and all the other families with summer homes here. Mary is now unusually (and understandably) protective of Brendon, and her and Mark’s marriage is suffering. A few weeks of tranquility should do them good.
It isn’t long before they meet the new family in a nearby cottage, the Sakowskis, who are so eager to make a good impression that they can barely wait for dawn to deliver a batch of firewood as a nice-to-meet-you gift. The Sakowskis’ demographics line up with the Hugheses’: a tall father, Bobby (James D’Arcy), his brunette wife, Jane (Rachel Miner), and a son, Jared (Alex Ferris), who’s just a few months older than Brendon but much larger. Though Mary and Mark aren’t in the mood for it, they feel social pressure to invite their enthusiastic new neighbors over for dinner.
Well, then there’s some trouble. Let’s leave it at that, detail-wise. First-time director Jeremy Power Regimbal shows a skill for ratcheting up tension without making it unbearable — which probably sounds like a polite way of saying the film isn’t as tense as it should be, but I mean it as a compliment. Not every thriller needs to be a psychologically traumatic experience. “In Their Skin” is unsettling enough to warrant that description, but not so much that you’ll never want to think about it again.
The movie falters a little when it comes to getting its point across. Mark and Mary’s fractured marriage and residual feelings of grief and guilt don’t end up mattering as much as they ought to. The screenplay, which Regimbal wrote with brothers Justin Tyler Close and Joshua Close (who plays Mark), hints at class issues as well — the Hughes family must be fairly well-to-do to own such a fine vacation home; the Sakowskis are resentful — but that theme is underdeveloped. More polish could have made this alarming psycho-drama resonate better, but even as it stands it’s a nerve-racking good time.
B (1 hr., 36 min.; )