By Bridget Muise
Skinamarink was written and directed by Kyle Edward Ball. The film runs one hour and forty minutes and tells an eerie tale that leaves viewers wondering, “What the hell did I just watch?” The film has been described as an experimental expression of storytelling. It is horror that plays with nostalgia, neglect, and childhood fears. Set in an unknown average suburban home in the 1990s, children Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) and Kevin (Lucas Paul) wake in the middle of the night to discover that their father (Ross Paul) has disappeared along with all of the windows and doors of the house. Almost no shots in the movie are done in a traditional sense. The viewer is left looking at a corner of the room or the feet of the children, being forced to listen intently to sounds and dialogue to put together the story.
Once the kids realize that their father is absent, they do not seem to worry immediately; they seem more confused by the lack of windows and doors that once were. They seek comfort in the living room in the form of old cartoons played on a VHS tape. They find the phone no longer works, and soon neither do the lights. The older sibling Kaylee tries to maintain their schedule without any indication of time. She makes them food and decides when they sleep: always in the living room. We follow the children over the days as they fall into the routine of keeping busy. An ominous voice makes itself known and draws the children out of the protection of the television. Over the days, the children find their toys moved around and stuck on the ceiling or the walls. Eventually, this voice starts reaching out to Kevin as well, promising to keep him safe. Children should never trust voices that speak from the shadows.
Skinamarink toys with fears we have forgotten in the recesses of our minds. The film draws the overactive imagination that we once had and reminds us why we were afraid of the dark. The viewer is forced to look at the tops of door frames and the flickering TV enough times they have no choice but to imagine what is unseen. It is as though it is too horrifying to even show. The TV remains a constant throughout the film to the point that, in its absence, the audience feels overexposed. When Kaylee or Kevin leave the safety of the living room, you beg them to return to the comforting drone of old cartoons. Occasionally the dialogue is so quiet there are subtitles shown. The image is so dim you have to strain your eyes to focus on it. It feels as though you are leaning into an abyss, waiting for something to push you—sticking your foot off the edge of the bed in the dark, inviting something to grab you.
The movie is like a culmination of cursed film, found footage, and the up-in-coming sub-genre of analog horror. The use of odd camera angles makes it seem like it was captured by accident and the audience has the misfortune of viewing it. The audience feels a sense of familiarity with waking nightmares injected into the bloodstream. You are left with a sense of dread and inevitability as the TV and clips loop over throughout the film.
Skinamarink is a fascinating piece showing an otherworldly projection of childhood neglect and subsequent coping. The children are actually able to function pretty well without their parental figure. They have to; it is in spirit that they are abandoned. They are scared and trapped, left with their only source of comfort and light in the world as a television screen. When another entity lures them away, it is able to lie to them and convince them to do horrible things. This is a fate that befalls neglected children far too often. They search for a guiding figure to protect them, and sometimes the only one is that which lurks in the dark.
I was hardly able to look at the screen by the end of it because I was filled with so much dread. Many horror movies rely incessantly on jumpscares to propel the fear of the audience and end up falling flat due to desensitization. Skinamarink does not fall into this trap with maybe what I would consider to be two jumpscares throughout the whole run, and they are anything but basic. Considering that this is an indie film done over a matter of days, I am incredibly impressed. If you go into this movie with the expectations of a regular horror film, you will be sorely disappointed and dreadfully confused. Keep an open mind to this exploration of what horror can be. For a fully immersive experience, be sure to watch in complete darkness, but beware that you might not be able to sleep with the lights off for a while, or you might not trust that the doors will be there when you wake up.