Director: Kyle Edward Ball
Screenplay: Kyle Edward Ball
Starring: Lucas Paul, Dali Rose Tetreault, Ross Paul, Jaime Hill
Country: Canada, USA
Running Time: 100 min
Year: 2022
BBFC: 15

The concept for Kyle Edward Ball’s Skinamarink began when the filmmaker ran a YouTube channel where he would ask people to relate their nightmares to him and he’d try to visualise them in short videos. After compiling a number of these, particularly the recurring ones, he expanded the idea into a proof-of-concept short film called Heck.

This helped Ball drum up a little money, aided largely by a crowdfunding campaign, to develop the idea into a feature film, and thus Skinamarink was born.

This experimental horror film made waves on the genre-movie festival circuit. However, it gained extra traction when a technical error caused the film to be leaked online. With its unique style, Skinamarink went viral, helping it get a theatrical release in the US and Canada, as well as being picked up by the Shudder streaming channel.

Whilst picking up largely positive reviews from critics, audiences have been harshly divided over the film. The whole situation is reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, which was another low-budget, away-from-the-norm (when it was released) horror movie that came out of nowhere to become a viral sensation but inspired violent debate as to whether it was the scariest film ever made or a steaming pile.

With Skinamarink now being released on Blu-ray, I decided to forge my own opinion. I got hold of a copy of the disc and my thoughts follow.

Skinamarink has only a bare minimum of plot and you’ll need to watch and listen carefully to decipher many of the details. Basically, it sees two young siblings, Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault), wake up one night after an accident injured Kevin, to discover their father has disappeared and the windows and outside doors have disappeared.

The pair hole up in the living room downstairs, watching cartoons, as they keep discovering frightening things upstairs.

As time moves on and stranger things begin to happen, it seems some sort of malevolent force is out to get the two kids.

Well, I can certainly see why Skinamarink divided audiences. Kyle Edward Ball dedicates himself to a wilfully obscure style that will prove admirably bold to some and infuriating to others.

For one, the film is bathed in a grainy, tinted, near-monochromatic darkness but, more than that, the camera is largely aimed at the walls, ceiling or on relatively minor details in the house. You rarely see the film’s protagonists and, when you do, it’s from behind or most of their body or face is obscured by a foreground object or blurry haze.

Added to this, the film’s audio is kept murky and often indecipherable. Subtitles are used throughout, to translate the whispers and children’s mumblings. It’s largely very quiet, with no score other than the oft-repeated soundtracks of a handful of vintage cartoons.

All of this could be seen as a criticism and I’ll accept that viewpoint. Plus, I must admit, I was only moderately, curiously engaged for the first half-hour. However, there’s an incident around the 35-40 minute mark that grabbed me and pulled me into the strange world of Skinamarink.

The film plays largely on childhood fears of the dark, the unknown and being left alone in a world you’re still not fully aware of. Ball shot the film in his own childhood home, backing up this perspective. I feel that the unusual presentation fits this too. For one, the shots largely come from a low angle, as a child would view the world. The voices not-quite-heard or understood also play on the way young children are often not privy to adult discussions or arguments that might frighten them.

Ball says that he wanted the film to feel like a kid describing a nightmare he had and I think he succeeds in that. People’s memories of dreams can be hazy at the best of times but children are generally not eloquent enough to describe them very clearly and their young imaginations can lead to more bizarre nightmares than adults could ever have.

Some have suggested the film is about child abuse too and I wouldn’t argue with that. There are certainly a few scenes that elicit that sense and the general concept of children having nobody to look after them or keep them safe from a dark, violent force fits the mould, giving a deeply disturbing undercurrent to the film.

As much as I’ve been praising Ball’s minimalist, experimental approach, I will side a little with the film’s detractors though. Whilst I found the bold style affected me, particularly in the latter half of the film, I do think it’s too long, leading to my interest waning from time to time. The more ‘uneventful’ moments do add a little breathing room, which is required to give the more shocking scenes greater impact. However, I think you could have easily lost 10-15 minutes to make for a more intense overall experience.

I still think Skinamarink deserves praise though. Whilst it might have benefitted from being tighter and is absolutely not for everyone, the film is undeniably bold and unique in its approach, which is to be commended. It certainly crept under my skin and truly unnerved me on several occasions, even if its dedication to its oblique style makes for challenging viewing.

Film:

Skinamarink is out now on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital, courtesy of Acorn Media International, after the film’s original release on the Shudder streaming platform. At first glance, you’d think this is a film that wouldn’t benefit from a Blu-ray presentation, due to the purposefully degraded, murky visuals. However, I would put money on streaming not being able to handle the heavy grain and dark, almost monochromatic imagery anywhere near as well as on Blu-ray. It has a natural look here, where I’m guessing streaming it would be blocky and pixelated due to the nature of the material. It’s a film with very subtle sound design too, so again the less compressed audio presentation you get on a Blu-ray will further enhance the experience.

There’s only one special feature included on the disc, a commentary with Writer/Director/Editor Kyle Edward Ball and Director of Photography Jamie McRae. This is excellent, with the pair talking in detail about the low-budget production. It’s fun to hear about how homemade it was and there are some enjoyably bitchy comments about some of the feedback they’ve received online. My only minor gripe would be that they launch right into the details without giving a handy overview of how the film came about and what their intentions were, though some of this information does trickle out if you sit and listen carefully to the whole thing.

So, whilst not loaded with extras, it’s still worth picking this release up rather than simply streaming the film. It likely looks and sounds a lot better and the commentary adds much value.

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About The Author

Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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