Directed & Written by Kyle Edward Ball
Starring Jaime Hill, Lucas Paul, Ross Paul, & Dali Rose Tetreault.
★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
The following review contains spoilers. Turn back or be forever spoiled!
Kyle Edward Ball’s Skinamarink is a one-of-a-kind film that truly will not be for everybody. Not due to the subject matter but because of its style which will prove challenging for some as it takes a while to grow on the viewer. For those who find themselves sinking into the film’s lo-fi, albeit striking cinematography, you’ll soon find yourself falling into a terrifying world of shadows, TV static, and dark supernatural occurrences in the quiet, hushed hallways of a normal family’s home.
Skinamarink is a slow, nightmarish walk through a vivid sensation of nostalgia, reminding adults what it felt like to be afraid of the dark, even in the comfort of one’s own home. It’s a tale told mostly relying on visuals, peppered with bits of dialogue here and there, along with other audio, to create a strange yet interesting experience that feels like watching a memory on a worn out VHS tape. The supernatural invades the everyday in Ball’s film while two little kids try to navigate their home after it falls under literal and metaphoric darkness. Skinamarink is, in some sense, difficult to describe, just as it’s very, very difficult to forget.
Honesty is the best policy, and in the name of honesty: Skinamarink is glacially slow. Despite the film’s molasses-like pace, it’s a haunting piece of work because it feels like something you might stumble onto between test signals on TV late at night, an unknown transmission from somewhere strange, an electronic cry from help out of an old VHS tape that seems to seep into reality. Ball evokes a sense of being a child at night at home, when suddenly it’s dark and the place has changed from a regular house into a potential haunted one with terror lurking around every corner. There’s a great juxtaposition in one scene between the innocence of childhood cartoons playing on the TV versus the unnerving, eventually demonic ambience inside the house.
There’s also an eerie, dangerous feeling inside the house, especially when the children appear to be entirely alone at home, the parents seemingly nowhere to be found after some time. One scene features a dark figure in the parents’ bedroom, a voice beckoning: “Look under the bed.” In a different scene, one of the kids says: “I don‘t want to talk about mom.” Later we come to understand something bad has surely happened to the children’s parents, and when the kids ask for their parents back the presence that’s clearly invaded their house gets angry, even vengeful.
The experimental form of Skinamarink is exciting because, though there’s plenty of audio, it relies so deeply on visuals to push the narrative while the sparse dialogue only fills in the background somewhat. And still, the mind reels as the nebulous plot unfolds as it tries to piece together what’s actually happening. That’s part of the macabre fun. On top of the film’s visual drive is the fact that we don’t get a full, clear glimpse of anybody in the family, mostly just receiving the dialogue of disembodied voices, like a house full of ghosts rather than one occupied by human beings. Somewhat abstract imagery pushes the narrative in Skinamarink, but by the end there’s little doubt as to the film’s plot.
The one thing that becomes painfully clear near the end of the film is that a dark force has taken over the house in which the story takes place, and everybody inside the house is in grave trouble. The supernatural starts to fully take the family and house over partway through the story. First we see a window appear where there wasn’t one prior in a hallway, then a door appears in the same way. A toilet appears, then it disappears. Most troublesome is when blood spatter appears on a wall, only to disappear and reappear again. Not only are the people in the house, with their disembodied voices like ghosts, everything inside the house is also spectral. Eventually the people start to become part of the house: one shot depicts a child dissolving into a wall gradually after a long, fading, upside down hallway shot, as the ghostly people and the ghostly house merge into a single entity.
Something striking that may or may not resonate with other viewers are brief shades of Poltergeist , and other similar films that cribbed from it over the years. In one scene, a chair and a lamp suddenly appear on the ceiling after a loud noise from another room, just like the Poltergeist scene when Diane turns quickly and gets a fright from the stacked chairs in her dining room. In another scene, there’s a doll on the ceiling. These are only small moments, and they won’t recall Poltergeist memories for everybody, but the discombobulated furniture and household items really do, for me, conjure memories of Tobe Hooper’s film.
The upside down furniture and hallway shots aren’t solely moments to make the supernatural feel present, they play into the end of Skinamarink and how the supernatural presence in the house affects the family. Near the film’s finale, the house is quite literally turned upside down, symbolic of the way the family’s lives have been flipped upside down. There’s an unsettling shot of a hallway at the end of the film, after a subtitle suggests the remaining child has been inside the house for over a year. The shot remains upside down, though it pulls back, gradually getting further and further away, as if becoming just a memory.
There’s genuinely no other film like Skinamarink. Again, it’s not going to be a film for everyone. Horror fans, of which I am one, are notoriously fickle, so something like Skinamarink will only appeal to the horror fans who enjoy avant-garde, experimental styles of film. Ball’s film is rewarding if you’re able to settle in and enjoy his style here. It’s a nostalgic nightmare, like a film you remember seeing when you were young but can’t remember the name of, or a dream you had when you were a kid. Skinamarink made me feel like I was seven years old all over again, sneaking a late-night peek at the TV in my grandparents’ basement to catch a glimpse at a horror film I shouldn’t have been watching. And it also made me want to plug in my own nightlight, just for a little while.