In this house, windows and doors disappear. In this house, your parents vanish. In this house, you’re not safe. Skinamarink is a nightmare that lives in your childhood home and comes out when everyone’s asleep. It terrorizes, haunts, and disturbs.
Director: Kyle Edward Ball
Release Date: January 13, 2023 (U.S. Theatrical)
Now, I know not everyone is (or will be) a fan of Skinamarink. It’s long, loud, and experimental. The footage is grainy and faces are hidden. Its plot meanders around, hiding in the shadows of each room. But there’s something about the film that’s powerful enough to invoke fear as I’ve rarely felt watching a movie, especially in a theater. During my viewing of Skinamarink, each and every jumpscare caused multiple people to gasp out in fear, or curse at the screen. I felt like we had all gone back in time to what dark shadows haunted us at our parents’ house.
Skinamarink, distributed by IFC Films and Shudder, stretches the liminality of horror. The film is purposefully vague, with no real image to attach to the monster until the very end of the film. Even the main characters’ faces are largely hidden from view. And yet, this ambiguity makes Skinamarink all the more frightening, allowing your mind to fill in the shadows and noises with your own childhood haunts.
In my childhood home, there was a door at the bottom of the basement stairs. When it was night or when I was home alone, I would purposefully avoid the basement stairs, too afraid that I would look down the cavernous flight and see someone in that door. My family eventually moved and the fear dissipated.
Skinamarink felt like those moments of my childhood when it was dark in the house and I was the only one awake. It felt like the overwhelming press of my own mind telling me there was something bad at home. The film’s juxtaposition of childhood iconography in the late 20th and early 21st centuries with the erosion of safety and innocence is relatable to most of the film’s audience, using Legos and cartoons to allude to false moments of security for viewers, along with siblings Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault).
Skinamarink‘s story is rather straightforward. Four-year-old Kevin and his older sister Kaylee become victims of a voice (Entity? Demon? Does it matter?) that took away all of the doors and windows to their house. Their father is also gone, and the phone line is dead. The two children hunker down in their living room and watch cartoons to distract themselves.
As Skinamarink continues, more items in the house are moved around or seem to vanish into thin air. Kaylee has a strange encounter with their father (Ross Paul), who tells her to look under the bed, and their mother (Jaime Hill), who tells her that they love her. Later on, Kevin finds Kaylee with her eyes and mouth removed from her face.
Kevin is now alone. I guess he’s not really alone, as the tormentor is still somewhere in the house. Kevin manages to call 911 after the voice tells him to stab himself with a knife, but the 911 dispatcher can’t help and the call is ended. Kevin obeys the voice that tells him to come upstairs. Skinamarink ends with a face telling Kevin to go to sleep, ignoring Kevin when he asks for its name.
What works so terribly well in Skinamarink is its ambiguity, especially knowing that it stems from the perspective of a child. The horrors of this film could be about so much: a potential injury (the beginning of the film depicts Kevin getting hurt from sleepwalking), divorce, death, or trauma. But a child such as Kevin will likely struggle to cope with these things, so other fears take over and new monsters are created.
With a plot that is rooted in childhood fears, Skinamarink uses imagery and cinematography to capture the essence of being terrified as a child. A lot of scenes are shot from Kevin and Kaylee’s perspectives: the camera is low to the ground and gazes around at different angles, or it shows the various toys they keep with them before they disappear. In one of the most frightening scenes from Skinamarink, a pair of eyes gleam in the dark only to be revealed as the iconic toy phone.
One aspect of Skinamarink that I really enjoyed was its look. Its camcorder-esque grain and strong blue/red tones caught the essence of low-budget horror in all of its glory. Weaved together with its effectively homey set design and creative blocking, Skinamarink looks exactly like the scary videos I would watch on YouTube or the old horror films I would find. The cinematography is so grounded in a sort of unnerving reality that any break away from it is even tenser than the one before. And the tension never really ends in Skinamarink.
To be honest, I’ve never seen a movie quite like Skinamarink. Its unique look and ambiguous plot might turn away some viewers -such as Flixist’s own Jesse Lab-, but it stuck with me for days after I saw it. And as of February 2nd, Skinamarink is available to stream on Shudder!