In Her Skin
Dir. Simone North
Year: Who Knows?
Aus Rating: Ummm...
Running Time: 108mins
The path travelled by Simone North's debut directorial feature In Her Skin - previously titled How to Change in 9 Weeks, and since retitled I Am You in various territories - has been a long and difficult one. In fact, due to legal wrangling, the film hasn't even been released in Australia at all and I have only been able to watch it due to its recent release in America. Despite it's completion in 2009, a story ripped right from the headlines, a newfound fascination by local audiences of dramatised true life crimes and a big name cast, In Her Skin has languished at the centre of disputes between filmmakers and distributors and - in all honesty - I haven't the slightest idea what version of the film I watched.
In Her Skin sees North tackle the disappearance and subsequent murder of Rachel Barber (Kate Bell), a 15-year-old girl whose parents (a perfectly acceptable Guy Pearce and Miranda Otto) fought a fierce battle with the local police to get attention called to their daughter’s case. The film’s most interesting aspect is that of Caroline Reid, played here with a – pardon the pun – suffocating performance by Ruth Bradley. Caroline is a young woman prone to epilepsy and swinging depression that has gone strikingly undiagnosed by her father (Sam Neill in Sam Neill mode) and mother (a wonderful cameo from Rebecca Gibney). She’s called a “loner”, “odd” and Bradley is the film’s greatest asset, not just the character but the actress too.
Perhaps it's this aforementioned messy postproduction period that lead to several of the film's key issues. Was too much attention paid to the players behind the scene and no enough to the film at hand? In Her Skin as arguably one of the more perplexing narrative structures of the year as North and her editor Jane Moran use flashbacks and flash forwards at film’s beginning before introducing a three-pronged structure that follows the victim, her parents and her killer in individual strands. Both of these are then dropped for standard linear storytelling and this constant chop and changing plays havoc with various passages.
Other technical aspects, however, are nice. Cinematography by Jules O’Loughlin is especially bright and captures Melbourne’s inner suburbs really well. It does a fantastic job of setting In Her Skin apart from similar made-for-TV movies such as The Society Murders, Wicked Love: The Maria Korp Story and A Model Daughter: The Killing of Caroline Byrne. Not only that, but outside of Caroline Reid’s pig sty apartment, the film never succumbs to the drab, lifeless colour palates that dominated Snowtown. The inner suburban Melbourne locations are also nicely filmed, with the city’s abundant trams and trains filling the frame at odd angles.
The film’s I Am You title is a misnomer since, while it’s shown Caroline wished she was Rachel, she never adopts her victim’s life in any form. She never draws strength from the contemporary ballet dancer that she knows from their childhoods living across the street from one another and despite her desire to be “in her skin”, Caroline never once feels the satisfaction that she thinks comes with being a woman of Rachel’s prettiness. In Her Skin is a far better title since it implies not only Caroline’s desire to be, quite literally, in Rachel’s skin, but also the way Simone North has planted the view in the skin of Caroline. The very uncompromising death sequence and its immediate aftermath make the skin crawl and it really can’t be said enough how important Ruth Bradley’s performance is to this and I’ll say it again if you need me to. The film thankfully doesn’t exploit Caroline’s illness, but at the same time, it’s almost as if the filmmakers weren’t confident enough to centre the whole film on her. If they had, it would have been an even more powerful experience. B-