It’s Only February and Skinamarink (2023) May be the Most Divisive Film of the Year
First Non-Festival Release: January 13, 2023 (Limited Theatrical Release)
Director: Kyle Edward Ball
Writer: Kyle Edward Ball
Runtime: 100 Minutes
Starring: Lucas Paul, Dali Rose Tetreault, Ross Paul, Jaime Hill
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Did you ever get nightmares as a child? Were you ever afraid at night, when things seemed off? In adolescence, the most innocuous of things can seem terrifying, especially when obscured by darkness. This may be why wandering around the house at night evokes such terror in kids, even when they need to get up to use the restroom or fetch a glass of water. Experimental horror film Skinamarink attempts to capture that nostalgic childhood fear of the dark.
Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) wake up in the middle of the night to find that their father (Ross Paul) is missing. What’s more, the doors and windows of their home have disappeared.
Skinamarink is an experiment in patience that will no doubt be divisive in its ambiguous and plodding approach to horror.
Its polarizing setup allows for some interesting directorial choices to shine through its gimmick. Borrowing heavily from analog horror and liminal horror, Skinamarink presents itself more as an audio-visual experience rather than a straightforward feature film. There is no plot to uncover, character arcs to follow, or even standalone scenes that make sense. Dream logic triumphs over everything here, which can be infuriating to those who prize more substantive storytelling experiences.
As the film progresses, its visceral experiences run thin rather quickly. Both children speak in hushed whispers for most of the film, and any other dialogue is obscured by heavy audio feedback making it difficult to understand. The few moments of dynamism exist in cheap jump scares where the filmmakers ratchet up the volume to earsplitting heights to substitute for actual surprises.
Visually, there is plenty to commend in Skinamarink as it clearly looks the part of a mid-1990s spooky suburban home. Relatable in its blandness, discarded toys, inoffensive decorations, and old-school technology inspire a feeling of universalism in the film. Its grainy camerawork adds to the feeling that we are peering in on a time capsule of footage that was caught in between the world of the living and the dead. Viewers get to see the possession of a house and its inhabitants from the point of view of the home, which is truly unique.
Director Kyle Edward Ball commits to this vision, for better or worse, and re-imagines what fear can grip a young child. Throughout Skinamarink there are plenty of different tactics employed to up the scare level and create a sense of dread. With most of the action obscured by darkness, Ball focuses on the horrors of negative space. Not knowing what is there allows viewers to create the imagery in their mind. This is a powerful tactic for some viewers and helps alleviate boredom for others looking for something as the film progresses.
There are very few traditional scares thanks to this approach. One that does leave a lasting impression involves the repetition of blood splatter rewinding and fast-forwarding on a loop in the film’s final act. Its presence is both mysterious and frightening given how little explanation is given in the narrative. The viewer is trusted to come up with their own story of how it happens, which is one of many ways audience participate in the horror of Skinamarink.
While noble in intentions, Skinamarink will only work for certain viewers, and that is okay. Committed to its particular aesthetics and amorphous story, Skinamarink is more of an experience than a typical movie. Likely, it is best watched at home in pitch dark rather than a cinema. This doesn’t excuse it from not giving that experience to moviegoers, but when it comes to experimental filmmaking, it is fair for directors to not sacrifice their vision for the potential medium it may play at when distributed. Personally, it was infuriating for this reviewer but that doesn’t mean it will not work for you. If exploiting your childlike curiosity and fears sounds like an enjoyable time, press play on Skinamarink in a home theater near you.
Overall Score? 3/10