Where to begin? Skinamarink is a horror film made by youtuber Kyle Edward Ball, who makes horror videos. One of those videos, Heck would act as a proof of concept for Skinamarink. Released at the Fantasia Film Festival it went on to be shown at several other festivals but due to a technical error it was leaked online. This film proceeded to spread through word of mouth and was released in theaters earlier this year before going onto streaming (Shudder). With that out of the way, what is Skinamarink?
One night two children wake up to find the windows and doors in their home have vanished. And that is it. Usually I’d spend a paragraph on a plot synopsis, but here it really wouldn’t help, as the plot takes a huge backseat in the film. It also is really vague as to what is happening, to the point where several different explanations exist for what happens in the film, and just as many interpretations exist for what it all means.
The film also is different from most films in how it's shot. Firstly, it is shot in mostly low angles, as if the audience is just as small as the children. This puts us in the perspective of the children in a way that few other films ever attempt. Secondly the camera is almost never focused on the characters. We see the walls, the toys, the TV, the environment, and if we are lucky, we see the children’s feet or their backs in one or two shots. That is all we see. This means that what is happening is left to our imagination which usually is scarier than what can be shown. It also means that I don’t have to talk about the acting because there effectively is none.
Darkness covers the film, in both meanings of the word. The house starts off very dark and the lighting only gets more dark as the film progresses. The most consistent light source is the TV in the house, which isn’t a great source of light. The lack of lighting is aided by the film grain constantly on screen which makes it harder to see things. By the end of the film, it is pitch blank in many shots, bringing nothing but dread as to what is in the dark. Meanwhile the film doesn’t shy away from implied violence, even though the leads are children. It leaves a dark uncomfortable feeling that permeates throughout the film.
With all of this together the film creates a tense atmosphere that perfectly captures the feeling of a childhood nightmare. While many of the elements I mentioned, like the lighting and cinematography, are done in a way that in most films would imply a level of incompetence, here they are what makes the horror of the film. It reminds me of many youtube horror works that have appeared over the years, especially analog horror, a sub-genre that uses the imperfections of old analog cameras and equipment to create horror, with works like The Mandela Catalog, Local 58, Winter of 89, and many others. This type of horror is very recent and this is the first film I know of to use this style of horror. Because of this, the film is not gonna land for some people, purely due to how obtuse it can feel to watch, which is fine and considering it is an arthouse film, is to be expected.
When watching this film, I was in a movie theater that was packed and it was perhaps the quietest theater I have been in, only rivaled by (fittingly) A Quiet Place. Skinamarink commands the attention of the viewer, and it has the content to back it up. The film is atmospheric, creepy and interpretive in its meaning. It feels like a childhood nightmare come to life and affects the audience in a similar way. Its style is not for some people, who might see it as boring or meandering. However, the film is a well made terrifying ride that you won’t get in any other horror movie.