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Review: Skinamarink

February 1, 2023

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Made on a budget of $15,000 dollars, Canadian director Kyle Edward Ball’s lo-fi horror film Skinamarink has become something of a sensation, having now grossed $1.9 million in theatres.

This success is all the more impressive considering the heavily experimental nature of the film itself, which eschews conventional narrative and instead focuses on being a purely experiential piece of cinema that is meant to evoke the feeling of being in a dark house as a child.

Set in 1995, the official synopsis (from IMDb) is as follows; “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.” And that’s really it.

Named for the Canadian children’s song, Skinamarink has a real sense of eeriness running throughout it, that feels somewhat like a half-remembered childhood nightmare. The film unfolds entirely through long, sometimes static shots punctuated by a few jump moments as the two kids, Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault), explore the house and decide to sleep downstairs. Toys are strewn about on the floor, objects start to disappear. A TV playing old cartoons is constantly on in the background, providing a familiar but also dissonant soundtrack, and the film’s minimal dialogue is intentionally muffled, with Ball making use of subtitles.

Expanded from YouTuber Ball’s 2020 short film Heck, the result is a peculiar little film; one that has a premise but no real plot, with Ball focused instead on capturing that very specific feeling of being a little kid and waking up in the middle of the night, and venturing out of your bedroom to explore the dark house with no one around. It’s a uniquely eery feeling that everyone has felt, and Ball does a good job of capturing it in his stripped down, analog-inspired style.

Shot in his childhood home in Edmonton, Ball’s film mainly unfolds through grainy footage of the house at night that evokes old home movies (it was shot digitally by cinematographer Jamie McRae), with long takes showing dimly lit hallways and ceilings, the camera purposely obscuring many details. These odd angles are intentional, and give the feeling of something being off. Aside from some shots of feet walking down carpeted hallways, the protagonists also are not seen, with much of the film being presented from their perspective.

While Skinamarink is probably best described as something akin to an arthouse riff on “found footage” horror films like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project, it’s also a film that you can’t really do justice to in writing, because it was made simply to be experienced on a sensory level. At times it even feels more like a collection of images that could be projected on a gallery wall, made to evoke a feeling as you stand there watching them. Because of this, I do think that the film might have been more impactful if it had clocked in closer to eighty minutes, rather than its somewhat inflated 100 minute run time.

While I don’t know if it entirely works as a conventional feature film, Skinamarink does get points for being its own thing, and is often uniquely effective as an experiment and as an experience. On these terms, the film is successful at what it sets out to do, with Ball capturing that strange, unsettling middle of the night feeling very effectively, and the final few images have a genuinely haunted and demonic feel to them that is hard to shake. Maybe Ball really did channel something after all.

Skinamarink is now playing in theatres, and will be available to stream exclusively on Shudder as of February 2nd.

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