There has been much division over Kyle Edward Ball’s ambient experimental horror film Skinamarink among horror fans on the internet. What for many is an experience more akin to watching paint dry than watching a movie for others is one of the most terrifying and physically unsettling films. But Skinamarink successfully preys upon some of the most ancient and base fears we come to know during childhood: being up at night when you’re not supposed to and navigating through the dark confounded by ominous shadows.
Skinamarink appears to tell the story of two children whose parents go missing late at night after all the windows and the front door of the house have disappeared. Trapped in their own home, they set up camp in front of the tv with all their toys as they start to hear strange voices and see bizarre visions. It appears there might be something or someone trapped with them. If this sounds like a story you might be interested in seeing, you may expect a different kind of horror movie. Skinamarink is much more focused on its overall analogue horror vibes as the story is very simple.
Every so often a milestone scare or plot point will make the less-interested viewers sit up ever so slightly and make those strapped in for the ride clutch their faces with fear. While the narrative is subtle, Skinamarink purposely makes its story beats vague. While this hurts Skinamarink’s chances of becoming a strong horror story, it clears the way for some unsettling imagery and an anxiety-inducing mood as it often leaves you in the dark, as if you were right there participating in the story.
Skinamarink’s strongest quality is by far its sound and visuals. They combine seamlessly to make a horrifying and refreshing soundscape and visual experience. The film is covered in a grainy analogue video filter which (on a technical level) makes the dark footage difficult to make out. But while this might frustrate some viewers, it is there on purpose to trick the eye into seeing things in the dark, much like one does when wandering a house late at night.
There are many moments where Skinamarink leaves you to sit and stare at a dark corridor barely lit by a nearby lamp-light room. Because of the grain, you scare yourself by tricking your brain into seeing figures and movement. This is a horror experience where coming in with an open mind, and an even more open imagination, is the only way one will get anything out of it, and that is not always easy. Skinamarink’s strongest qualities are also its weakest.
There are moments in the movie where the mind will start to wander, as there are only so many tricks that the film can use to sustain that feeling of dread in the viewer. The truly terrifying moments scattered through the movie thankfully pick up very quickly towards the end but at the halfway mark the focus will drain for some. However, the brisk run time and the final act truly made me uncomfortable in ways most horror films can’t come close to. The last few set pieces are so visually distinct and unsettling that they make for a satisfying and rewarding climax that thanks you for your patience.
Skinamarink is an ambient and experimental horror movie. This does not make it automatically critically acclaimed or worthy of praise, but I believe it makes the most out of a somewhat limited concept and succeeds in the goal of horror: scaring the viewer. Unfortunately for most audiences, this will be a confusing and plodding movie missing the story and humanity we would all usually want. If you’re a horror-head looking for something unique and refreshing, or someone into wild and experimental filmmaking, then Skinamarink will be an unforgettable experience. If this film clicks for you, you are in for one of the most uniquely frightening time.
Skinamarink is streaming now on Shudder.
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