By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
There’s experimental filmmaking and then there’s experimental filmmaking. And Skinamarink most certainly falls in the latter category.
The directorial debut from director Kyle Edward Ball, who also wrote the script, Skinamarink’s plot can be difficult to grasp and, in turn, difficult to describe. At its simplest, it is a film of two siblings – Kevin and Kaylee – who find themselves frightened by mysterious circumstances in their family home at night.
Skinamarink has had quite the journey to get in the hands of audiences. The idea started when Ball ran a YouTube channel titled Bitesized Nightmares. Ball would ask viewers to post comments about their worst nightmares, and then Ball would film recreations of these nightmares. The nightmares that served as the bases of these recreations eventually led to a short film titled Heck, which, in turn, set the stage for Skinamarink. The feature film premiered at the 26th Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal in the summer of 2022, but gained notoriety when the film was accidentally leaked online and subsequently garnered significant attention on TikTok, Reddit, and Twitter. The movie then had a theatrical rollout, before recently debuting on the horror streaming service Shudder.
So, is Skinamarink worth a watch? Ultimately, this relates to another, more nuanced question: is Skinamarink experimental and creative or dull and uneventful? The answer is likely all of the above.
Skinamarink heavily depends on the atmosphere that characterizes the film. Set in 1995, the film isn’t found footage, but has a grainy, unfinished look akin to an old video recorder. The shot composition is equally confounding and novel. Characters are rarely seen in frame and, if they are, their faces are turned away from the audience. Director Ball, instead, assembles a film full of mundane shots of household objects with minimal visibility. The household in question, by the way, was Ball’s childhood home. And, with the exception of the darkness that surrounds the entire film, the home isn’t inherently creepy in a haunted house manner. Ball couples his odd, at times unsettling shots with a strange approach to sound design. Characters’ minimal dialogue will be subtitled at times when it can be heard clearly, but is not subtitled at other times when the dialogue is basically inaudible.
All of this makes for a downright strange moviegoing experience, and one that, at least initially, is undoubtedly unsettling. Problems arise, however, as the runtime progresses and there is no payoff for the viewer’s extraordinary patience. Slow burn horror movies are fantastic, but often depend on a grandness to their finale or at least a steady progression in tension and scares. Skinamarink is not interested in doing things by-the-book though. And, eventually, the anxiety in the movie’s opening moments dissipates, turning an initially unsettling and disarming experimental film into something far more dull.
Skinamarink will likely be the rare horror film that 9 out of 10 viewers detest and 1 out of 10 viewers laud as revolutionary for the horror genre – the kind of film that some walk out of and others applaud when the credits roll. Certain imagery may evoke the likes of The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and Poltergeist, but make no mistake – Skinamarink is an undoubtedly original film. An entirely unconventional filmmaking approach makes for a horror film that fluctuates from fascinating to unsettling to boring, but one that will likely generate much conversation among horror faithful.
Skinamarink is now streaming on Shudder.