Late last year, Canadian filmmaker Kyle Edward Ball’s debut feature, Skinamarink, was pirated and dropped on the internet...
...There’s a special place in Hell for the people that do stuff like that. As for the rest of you, I hope you avoided ostensibly stealing this movie, because it’s an extraordinarily creepy film that deserves your supportive eyeballs.
Written/directed by Ball and filmed in his childhood home, Skinamarink is a low-fi nightmare which follows a pair of siblings who wake up to find that their father has disappeared, along with all of the doors and windows in the house. As time goes on, they discover that they are not alone.
Hitting play on Skinamarink feels like stumbling across a film which has tumbled out of the black void of time. Set in 1995 and shot by Jamie McRae to appear like a grainy, strange home movie, Ball imbues the audience with the sensation that we are watching something private and terrible. Imagine what it must’ve been like to discover Dean Alioto’s The McPherson Tape before audiences were familiar with the concept of “Found Footage”, and that’s what it’s like to experience Skinamarink. We are witness to the disturbing events which befall this poor family, and all of it seems painfully, horribly real.
What sets Ball’s film apart from the bevy of great found footage films is that we hardly actually see a thing on screen. That’s the catch. Most of the dread is created through a haunting soundscape of creaking doors, rustling feet, and voices childish or sinister floating through the dark house like ghosts. Instead of seeing exchanges of dialogue taking place, we overhear them while crouching at the end of a dark hall, or gazing at a corner of the room. We as the viewer become a lurker in this house that seems as if it stretches on forever. Between the shadowy rooms and the innocent voices occasionally whispering about their parents, Ball recreates that feeling some of us had as kids when we would sneak through the house, fearing the danger in waking the adults.
We might as well call Skinamarink “Liminal Spaces: The Movie”. Objects appear and disappear from frame. The sounds of cartoons play, reverse and play again, caught in a never-ending loop. The absence of doors, windows and light leaves us unaware of the passage of time. We don’t know if we’re observing a night, a month, a year. We’re lost in a space between time. That lack of knowing becomes part of the dread pulsating throughout. Ball disturbs not just through eerie atmospherics, but the horror of child abuse through abandonment which lies at the dark heart of Skinamarink. I found myself thinking of these abandoned kids, the loneliness, the terror of that. The film becomes an interpretation of that fear which kids experience when they’re alone in an empty house. Every shadow, every sound, every object takes on a sinister form.
Watching Skinamarink is like being caught in a bad dream you can’t escape. It conjures a threatening vibe that creeps deep under the skin, like staring at an old black and white photo containing the blurry image of a ghost. Ball does include the occasional jump out of your seat scare by lulling the viewer into a dreamy state before suddenly throwing something shocking at them, but the uneasy dread is where Skinamarink climbs the bar of a film that will haunt you for days. For those wondering, yes, there are things more terrifying than murky hallways and whispers creeping within, but I wouldn’t dare spoil what those are here. This is a prime example of a film that’s best going in blind and discovering for yourself.
Just be aware, Skinamarink requires patience. Packed with long shots that don’t ever fully let the viewer in on what’s occurring, there’s a certain restlessness that comes with watching the film. The “nothing’s happening” crowd will likely be vocal on this one, and I wouldn’t blame some of you if you found it a bit “slow”. I didn’t, but I'd agree the film could stand to lose twenty minutes or so. That being said, the approach here is brilliant, because it creates a true audio visual nightmare. Often the scariest thing is the thing we imagine, not what we see onscreen. Ball consistently forces the viewer to conjure their worst fears, their most horrific monsters. No one will view this film the same way. We’ll all have different interpretations of the evil hovering underneath the surface of Skinamarink.
Strange. Experimental. Even frustrating at times, Skinamarink will work for some while leaving others puzzled. Though there’s not a soul who will be able to avoid the lasting eeriness of it. Like a filmic version of Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves”, it’s a uniquely haunting vision from an exciting new talent in Kyle Edward Ball who I personally can’t wait to follow down whichever dark hall he takes us next.
Skinamarink haunts theaters nationwide on January 13th from Shudder and will also arrive on the streaming service later this year.
By Matt Konopka