Director: Simone North | 108 minutes | drama, thriller | Actors: Guy Pierce, Sam Neill, Miranda Otto, Ruth Bradley, Justine Clarke, Rebecca Gibney, Kate Bell, Dena Kaplan, Khan Chittenden, Steven Vidler, Jeremy Sims, Veronica Neave, Jack Finsterer, Diane Craig, Tim Boyle, Andrew Blain, Maya Aleksandra, Eugene Gilfedder, Kelley Abbey, Paul Denny, Rowan Chapman, Melissa Andersen, Jerome Velinsky, Tori Forrest, Mia Storey, Sally Christie, Stacey Erbacher, Paul Geoghegan
In the late 1990s, a remarkable murder case gripped Australia. The disappearance and murder of 15-year-old Rachel Barber was widely reported in the media. Everything seemed to be going well for Barber: she was beautiful, talented and had many friends. The promising dancer was in a relationship with Emmanuel “Manny” Carella, who would become a popular teen idol in Australia. In addition, she came from a warm family and had a good relationship with her parents and sisters. How different was her five-year-older former neighbor Caroline Reid Robertson, who had problems with everything and everyone. With her parents, who divorced when she was sixteen, but mostly with themselves. Bipolar Caroline overflowed with self-hatred and looked jealous at Rachel, who was doing so well. She became obsessed with her former girl next door and decided to take her own frustrations out on the girl …
Simone North, an Australian with years of experience producing series such as “The Flying Doctors”, filmed the tragic story about Rachel and Caroline under the title “In Her Skin” (2009). In addition to directing (her debut), she also took care of the script. She followed the facts as much as possible and said she did this so truthfully that she dares to open her film with the message “This is a true story”, as opposed to the more usual “Based on a true story”. North opts for a striking structure for her film. She describes the story from three different angles: that of Rachel’s parents (Guy Pierce and Miranda Otto), from Caroline (Ruth Bradley) and from the victim herself (Kate Bell). Caroline’s perspective in particular has added value, because as a viewer you gain insight into her complex personality and her inner demons. The moment when she bursts into a tirade of self-hatred in front of her father (a perfunctory Sam Neill) is heartbreaking. The role is a true tour de force for young Irish actress Ruth Bradley. What courage and what guts she has!
What is unfortunate is that halfway through the film, when all three perspectives have been reviewed, the sting is a bit out of the story. After the gruesome murder spree, which is portrayed very coldly and confrontingly, there is muddling on for another half hour. We see detectives who initially do not want to help the Barbers because they suspect that Rachel has just run away from home. Eventually, a search is set up and we see how Caroline twists and turns to avoid the police. The tension is gone and the film fades like a candle. North could have distributed the tension in her film much better. By taking a little more time she could also have explored her characters further, because except Caroline, the characters remain shadows, empty shells. North dares to apply a poetic camera approach, which often works out well. Sometimes, however, she breaks down in her arty approach, for example in the soaring voices that accompany certain images. For a debuting director, however, North tackles it quite well. However, as a screenwriter, she could use some practice.
“In Her Skin” tells a poignant true story that throws his audience upside down with some shocking scenes. The acting of the entire cast is fine, but young Ruth Bradley steals the show as troubled, unpredictable Caroline. Sympathy is not quite what you have for her, but understanding certainly is. It is a pity that North has made some incomprehensible choices in her screenplay, causing the tension in her film to last shorter than you would like and the film to bleed a little to death. Despite this, “In Her Skin” is a very nice debut, with an intriguing central character in Caroline Reid Robertson who stays on your mind longer than you would like.