Kyle Edward Ball’s Skinamarink has had an exciting journey, to say the least. After premiering at the 2022 Fantasia Film Festival, the film was leaked online, and word-of-mouth talked up the “unnerving and terrifying” premise like it was an urban legend. It got a legitimate theatrical release and grossed $1.8 million on a $15,000 budget—something that some indie filmmakers can only dream about.
So, is Skinamarink worth the immense hype? It depends on who you ask. The film and its experimental approach have proven to be divisive among audiences. It’s draped in darkness and doesn’t have a concrete narrative. While at times frustrating with its agonizingly slow burn, Skinamarink does manage to keep tension and dread afloat throughout, even when it does tend to overstay its welcome.
Skinamarink follows two young children, Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault), as their worst nightmare begins to fold: their father has disappeared, as are the windows and doors of their house. As they try to survive, a malevolent force hides in the shadows and whispers horrific things in their ears.
Ball tests his audience’s patience with long, lingering shots of walls and hallways with a grainy film texture that makes it extremely difficult to see what is happening on screen. However, the fear of the unknown keeps the tension at an all-time high. Shapes start to form in the darkness that may be furniture or something more evil lurking in the corners of the house. Some might find this game of “I Spy” tedious, but it brings back childhood memories of fearing everything associated with the darkness. Something as mundane as a doll or a toy phone may be fine when the lights are on, but as soon as the lights go off, they might as well be tools of Satan.
Like a fucked-up fever dream, Skinmarink leans into disturbing imagery rather than a traditional narrative, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a story here. Ball sprinkles in little details throughout that have spawned multiple interpretations of why Kevin and Kaylee are in this hell. To have any concrete closure would be doing this film a disservice, taking away what makes it so scary in the first place.
That being said, you truly feel the 100-minute runtime every step of the way. The tension and dread are fought by impending boredom, and you start to wonder how long you can look at the same cranny before losing it. Skinamarink was adapted from Ball’s short film, Heck, and it felt like he ran out of ideas to flesh it out into a full-length feature. If Ball had stuck with the short film format here, it would have been much more effective in what it was trying to do.
Despite these narrative pitfalls and a minuscule budget, Ball turns the horror genre on its head. With Skinamarink, he concocts a unique—albeit a tad vexing—experience. It’s safe to say that he has an adventurous future ahead of him, and he should be on everyone’s radar.
Skinamarink is now playing in select theaters and will be available to stream on Shudder. Watch the trailer here.
Featured image courtesy of Shudder.
SKINAMARINK - 7/10