Made for $15,000 and filmed in director Kyle Edward Ball’s childhood home, Skinamarink is already making an impact. For an experimental indie horror, its minor viral takeoff is somewhat of a shock. The film has been having a big moment on social media in the last few months with TikTok being a big reason for that. Combining internet fame with a successful festival circuit, Skinamarink has become no stranger to making viewers squirm. I was lucky enough to catch a screening last weekend and was blown away by Ball’s vision. He crafts a haunting portrait of a deep-rooted childhood fear we’ve all forgotten about: what if you wake up one night and your parents are gone?
If you go into Skinamarink expecting a typical paranormal haunted house-type film you’re going to be disappointed. One of the big pieces of Skinamarink’s puzzle is its experimental nature. There is no one way to understand the story being told and I believe that was Ball’s intention. On paper, the film, set in 1995, is about siblings Kevin and Kaylee who wake up in the middle of the night and discover their parents have disappeared. Along with them go all the windows and doors. Kevin and Kaylee are both very young, no more than four to five years old so because the fear feels big to them it feels big to us. In order to find some comfort the two set up in front of the tv with blankets, cartoons, and toys. However, it doesn’t take long for things to turn sinister. As the night progresses Kevin and Kaylee are pursued by an entity and it only gets worse.
Somehow Skinamarink manages to tap into long-forgotten childhood fears. Part of the reason this is so effective is thanks to cinematographer Jamie McRae. McRae makes the film appear similar to an old-school home video: grainy and staticy. What this achieves is a supreme level of dread; with so many shots of dark grainy empty hallways, your brain has no choice but to fill in the blanks. Have you ever stared into the dark for too long and started seeing things? Maybe shapes begin to appear or figures start to move but nothing is there? In an impressive feat of filmmaking, Skinamarink manages to replicate that exact phenomenon. Your eyes become so focused on finding things in the various frames of this film that eventually things start to take shape…maybe.
This technique also gives the film a very analog horror-type vibe. It’s not 100% analog horror but the influences are there, as are elements of creepypastas. Skinamarink feels like a “lost” home video you find in a long-forgotten Reddit thread that people claim is cursed and I mean that in the best possible way. This film feels genuinely haunted and that’s my favorite aspect of it. And, somewhat unexpectedly, it will change how you look at Fisher Price play phones forever.
Truthfully, there’s no one way to define Skinamarink. What I do know is that it won’t be for everyone and if you’re not familiar with those types of films you need to go in with a very open mind. I think it’s wonderful that a film like this has reached such a big audience and managed to make $1m and counting at the box office. That is a filmmaker’s dream and I couldn’t be happier for Ball. However, with it playing in big theaters like AMC and Cinemark there has been quite a polarizing reaction from folks seeing it expecting a fun haunted house flick. That’s to be expected when such an experimental film gets a wide release. While I am very much in disagreement with the folks who didn’t like it I do agree with them on one thing: the runtime. 100 minutes was a slight struggle for a film like this. I think there was a way to tell the story in the same way with the same levels of dread and abstract horror without breaking 80-90 minutes. Besides that, I was on board with almost everything else. However, if you have sensory issues I would suggest noise-reducing earplugs or headphones because some parts of the film were a little overwhelming sound-wise. Make no mistake though, I loved this film and the journey it took me on. It’s one that will be sticking in my brain for a long, long time.
A lot of Skinamarink relies on your imagination to fill in the blanks. Kevin and Kaylee are being tormented by whatever is in their house and so are you. It’s a sensory experience with moments that make sure you jump out of your skin. I understand this film also won’t be for everyone. That’s something I think Ball was prepared for. It seems like he knew his film would affect everyone in various ways, some hitting deeper than others. It’s unsettling, it’s slightly nostalgic, and it’s one of the scariest movies we’ve had in the past 10 years. Skinamarink is something profoundly unique and I’m so glad films like this are able to get a theatrical run. In this house indie horror is alive and well and absolutely killing it.
You can catch Skinamarink in select theaters now and streaming exclusively on Shudder starting February 2nd!
REVIEW: Something Lurks in the Dark in ‘Skinamarink’