It might not serve as the most compelling blurb, but “a more palatable Lovely Bones” accurately sums up Simone North’s debut feature In Her Skin, which chronicles the murder of an Australian 15-year-old by her former babysitter. The first red flag is the opening title card, which reads “This is a true story.” The use of “is” rather than “based on” or “inspired by” is a harbinger of the lack of perspective and humility that enables the film’s most egregious excesses.
North splits her story into thirds, focusing first on the girl’s parents, played by Guy Pearce and Miranda Otto, then on her killer, and finally on the victim herself, leading up to the moment when she’s brutally strangled. But while she formally announces the shift in perspectives with onscreen text, North doesn’t stick to her plan; apart from mild differences in screen time, there’s nothing to differentiate one character’s section from another. The interior viewpoint promised by the film’s title never materializes. We watch different people, but always from the outside.
North made at least one great choice, casting Irish actress Ruth Bradley as Caroline Reed Robertson, a pale, doughy epileptic who sees in slim, beautiful Rachel Barber (Kate Bell) everything she wishes she was, and everything she hates. When the film flashes back to the time of Robertson’s parents’ divorce, also the period when she served as Barber’s babysitter, we see the petulance of adolescent rebellion shade into something far more volatile, a desperate, unchecked rage that grows rancid over time. Years later, during a rare visit from her wealthy, distant father (Sam Neill, playing squarely to type), she rips off her clothes to confront him with the body she so loathes.
But even if she’s a compelling grotesque, Bradley’s Robertson is only a grotesque, evoking arm’s-length sympathy, but little understanding. Instead, North embellishes her story with quasi-mystical frippery, floating Steadicam shots, and disembodied whispers that never coalesce into a coherent approach. Rather than peering into the heart of darkness, North just slaps a coat of Art atop her true-crime subject, and the upshot is akin to an especially pretentious episode of Law & Order.