It was the perfect house: sprawling, lavish and tucked away in the woods near Fort Langley.
Director Jeremy Power Regimbal had been searching for a high-end vacation home that would serve as both haven and prison for the characters in his debut feature film In Their Skin. But it wasn't until the very last minute that a production designer scouted the ideal Lower Mainland spot. "We looked forever," Regimbal says over the phone from his home in L.A. "We were almost ready to shoot and we couldn't find anything. It was a hidden gem."
While most of the movie takes place in the house, the crew also travelled up the Sea to Sky to Squamish to get dark, moody shots of the highway.
Regimbal knew the area well, having grown up in Vancouver where he launched his career directing commercials, music videos and other short pieces. He moved to L.A. to co-found the Lab Media Group, a production company and arts magazine with Justin Close. Justin's brother Josh, meanwhile, wrote and stars in In Their Skin.
The pyschothriller marks Regimbal's first time working in a long-form, narrative format.
"It was an incredible leap," he says. "I was so lucky everyone believed in me so much. It was amazing, but I think the biggest challenges were adapting to long-form shooting. Shooting a music video or commercial or short film, you're talking a few days. It's like an endurance race when you get to (long-form) level. You don't want to burn everyone out or burn yourself out."
The thriller's plot too was exhausting with one tense, violent and horrifying scene after the other. "The whole film has a really dark element right from the beginning," Regimbal says. "Making the set a comfortable place to be was one of my jobs. If you're shooting over and over all day, a rape scene or someone being killed, it trickles down to the crew. It's intense."
Curious about that plot yet? The story centres on an affluent couple, Mark (played by Josh) and Mary (Selma Blair) Hughes as they grapple with the death of their daughter, who was killed in a traffic accident. Along with their eight-year-old son, they travel to their family cabin for some time away from home.
The film begins tense with the couple in the midst of mourning and also attempting to patch up their shaky marriage. But the story transforms from sad to spooky with the arrival of the Sakowskis (played by James D'Arcy and Rachel Miner), a strange, socially awkward family that claim to be the Hughes' neighbours. They wake the couple early one morning while delivering a gift of firewood — a ploy, presumably, to invite themselves over for dinner. Once the Sakowskis enter that big, beautiful old house it starts to become clear that they have no intentions of leaving. For Regimbal, who came up with the idea for the film with the Close brothers while they were on a road trip from Vancouver to L.A., exploring themes of perfection and envy were appealing. "I love some of the other ideas: the whole theme of obsession and this whole carrot on a stick, that you can be perfect. It's coming to the realization that there is no perfection. I think that was really interesting as well," he says.