Monday, February 3, 2014

Women in Horror: In Her Skin

In Her Skin tells the chilling true story of Caroline Reed Robertson and how she murdered fifteen year old Rachel Barber. The story shows three points of view: Rachel's, her family's, and finally, Caroline's. Rachel's life is pretty much perfect. Her family is affluent, loving, and happy. She's a talented dancer and has a loving, devoted boyfriend. Others find her beautiful and she's generally well liked. Of course, Rachel has things she hides from her parents such as sex, drinking, and general teenage mischief. Unfortunately, the film doesn't take the time to delve into Rachel's character as it does to Caroline's, so she remains a generic teen.

Rachel's family pushes to find any clue after she goes missing. The police think they are in denial about their daughter running away and dismiss their constant theories and urging to do more. They knew something was wrong when Rachel wasn't at the train station and the case was solved due to their unwillingness to dismiss their daughter. I found the characterization of the parents to be a little weird. In one scene, the father completely breaks down, convinced Rachel is dead. The mother is also overwhelmed, but leaves the room, leaving their young daughter to comfort her husband. The scene just struck me as incredibly odd and possibly indicative of a deeper discordance in the family to be revealed later (which it wasn't). The other odd scene was when the family was told Rachel was dead. They didn't have any outward emotional reaction at all despite having their worst fears confirmed. I realize that everyone processes and grieves in their own way, but it was a jarring scene when they had been emotional at the very thought that it might have happened.

That brings us to Caroline Reed Robertson. For most of her life, she's been miserable, full of self loathing, and dismissed or disliked by everyone she knows. Her father was largely absent from her life and when she tried to reach out him, he rejected her. Her mother grew tired of her continued abuse and gave up on her, dismissing her as a bad seed. At school, her classmates relentlessly tease and torment her. She internalizes their taunts and fuels her self loathing. Who knows how it started, but Caroline ended up with no one to turn to. Every support system out there failed her. You can't help but feel for her as she is rejected time and time again by those around her and in turn hates herself. Caroline sees Rachel's idyllic life from afar and wants it so badly. In a decision that defies reason and sanity, she decides to kidnap, murder, and assume the identity of Rachel Barber. The murder scene is quite brutal and raw and deservedly stood out from the rest of the film.

Ruth Bradley performs amazingly as Caroline. Her mood swings, depression, self loathing, rage, and (short lived) smug surety are deftly portrayed and completely believable. It's her performance and Simone North's writing and direction that allows the audience to sympathize with her plight while still being disgusted and horrified by her crime and her lack of remorse afterwards. It's also the reason why the film piqued my interest and left me thinking about it for days. It would have been so easy to show Caroline to be a one dimensional monster, but to show she is a person unable to make a connection with others or herself takes effort and guts. Instead, there are a great many passionate responses and discussions about Simone North's approach to the story. I highly recommend this thought provoking film.

My rating: 9/10 fishmuffins

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