Skinamarink - New Release Review
Director: Kyle Edward Ball
Starring: Jaime Hill, Lucas Paul, Ross Paul, Dali Rose Tetreault
Written by: Kyle Edward Ball
Produced by: Dylan Pearce
Cinematography by: Jamie McRae
Two children wake up in the middle of the night to find their father is missing, and all the windows and doors in their home have vanished.
This is gonna be a difficult one to talk about. Part of me really liked 'Skinamarink' and I certainly applaud its artistry and experimentation. It is a very uncomfortable watch and horror should definitely leave a mark on the viewer but the film is excruciatingly slow and it just didn't have enough in it to warrant the feature film runtime.
Kyle Edward Ball's feature directorial debut is approximately 100 minutes long and it's not an exaggeration to say that about 75% of the film is made up of simple shots of the walls and lamp fixtures and close-ups of abandoned toys on the carpet or disorientating zoomed in images of a television set blasting out vintage cartoons. It's a very bizarre film that absolutely deserves to be talked about and praised for its boldness and I can see why it would be such a terrifying watch on a big screen in a eerily quiet room with all the lights turned off.
It's difficult to describe what 'Skinamarink' is actually about. It's a bit of a fever dream and in many ways the film itself could be a dream of one of the children involved or simply just a manifestation of their imagination or fears.
The film is set in one single location, a nondescript family home. A family of four. Mum, Dad and two young kids, Kevin and Kaylee reside here. It's 1995 and one night both the kids wake up and can't find their parents anywhere. That in itself would be a horrendous situation to be in for a young child but then we realise that the windows have all been removed from the house and the doors too which mean they can't leave. It sounds exactly like a kids worst nightmare. Time passes and the children start to feel the uneasy presence of "something" else. A malevolent deity inhabits their space too and it attempts to communicate with them.
It became apparent early on that Ball and cinematographer Jamie McRae were eager to nail a certain shot technique as much as possible. In mostly all of the shots the particular subject onscreen is almost always either off centre or way off the edge of the screen and in some cases not even visible entirely. This creates an uncanny sense of disconnection. That what we're watching isn't quite right. That this world is somehow damaged or out of sync. Like there's been a glitch in the matrix or something. It's so simple but it really does add so much to the suspense of each scene. Nearly every time the children speak they are off camera. A lot of the film also takes place in complete darkness, which is why I think a lot of viewers may assume that this is a found footage film. But it's not. It was shot during lockdown and the anxieties that we all experienced during those dark times may also explain some of the films content.
There's nothing overtly scary that happens in the film. At least that we see onscreen anyway. The real terror comes from how it's filmed. It's got a gorgeous retro grainy filter over it which obviously adds to the illusion that its real footage we're watching. Lots of the shots linger in open spaces, and almost always in the dark, from weird low angles, again adding to the sense of nothingness. And the sound design is phenomenal. Creepy hisses and scratches and other unearthly soundscapes that really get under your skin. Very unsettling. However some of the more distressing scenes are ones that have no sound design at all and are only accompanied by the delicate whisper of the children asking simple questions. No doubt that David Lynch was huge influence.
It didn't quite do it for me overall although there are some unquestionably frightening sequences. I don't want to go into too much detail here but it really is a film that you should seek out and watch for yourself. But please put your phone away and make sure to turn all your lights off. Your enjoyment of the film will likely be determined by your ability to switch off from reality and let this nightmarish film gobble you up.
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- Gavin Logan
'Skinamarink' is available to stream on Shudder on February 2nd