Reviewing In Her Skin for DVDsnapshot turned out to be a nice surprise. Simone North knocks the ball out of the park with a first film that, yeah, wobbles in a few places, but on the whole is a triumph!
A desire for a new life turns a jealous obsession into a disturbing game of identity theft in this terrifying psychological thriller based on a true story. Homely loner Caroline (Ruth Bradley) longs to escape her tormented adolescence and finds a way by living vicariously through popular girl Rachel (Kate Bell), who seemingly has it all. But Caroline's longing to be someone else soon transforms her hope of breaking free of her own life into a twisted need to replace it with Rachel's. Sam Neill, Guy Pearce, and Miranda Otto all give flawless performances as the parents of the tow girls whose lives threaten to intertwine in a deadly way.
Just because a film is inspired by true events does not mean you need to spoil the plot in your one sentence description on its page.
In lesser hands, this story of a young girl's murder and it's affect on her family and her killer could have been a ploddingly obvious Lifetime movie of the week told from the mother's point of view. Instead, In Her Skin is a stunning first feature from Australian television producer Simone North. With a stunning aesthetic, fine photography and a well-done score, this is the kind of deluxe production you're surprised to find flying under the theatrical radar. If anything, the viewpoint here is confident enough to be almost distracting in places, and the artistic touches don't always mesh with a story based on an actual murder.
Told in three segments and set in 1999, the story follows events from the point of view of Rachel's parents, then her killer, and then finally her own. Mike and Elizabeth Barber are the parents as played by Guy Pearce and Miranda Otto. The immediate kick-off into melodrama should be heavy handed, but these actors, especially Otto, tear into the material fiercely and finely. They engage the audience from the very beginning without carrying things over the top.
Their worry and fear dovetail into the segment which follows Caroline, the ugly duckling daughter of exasperated daddy, Sam Neill, who's more weary from a lifetime of her antics than he is distant or cruel. Ruth Bradley's Caroline is all envy, self-pity, and daddy issues; a darkly exaggerated version of Toni Collette's maladjusted Mariel before she remakes her life in Muriel's Wedding. This long middle act telegraphs the destination, but doesn't make the ride any smoother thanks to Caroline's overwrought screaming and self-loathing.
Finally there's Rachel's turn, and in this last, longest segment all the pieces fall into place as we watch the manipulations, violence, and repercussions of the heartbreaking acts that inspired the film in the first place. Here, you decide how you feel about Caroline's overripe, showy acting out. Bradly is very talented, perfect in the role, and doesn't seem to overplay it, but what is required here can't be underplayed.
Swollen emotions splash everywhere as the “actor's showcase” Caroline story intersects with the finely performed domestic tragedy of the Barber family. Simone North retains the heartbreak and keeps the story moving through sheer bravado and a storyteller's instincts. She's unafraid to season this effective, tragic drama with dramatic pyrotechnics and a visual flair reminiscent of her Australian colleages like Jane Campion and Peter Jackson.
In Her Skin is presented in widescreen format with English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available. Extras include the films trailer, Interviews with Pearce, Otto, and Neill, Three behind-the-scenes segments, and a set of deleted scenes. Trailers for upcoming IFC releases are also included.
A visually accomplished, well-crafted study of a terrible crime and how it effects those it touches, In Her Skin is a moving surprise. Well acted, beautifully made, but a bit showy for a the telling of a true life murder. In the end, it's overblown and hotheaded, but also a moving showcase for a major new storytelling talent.