Skinamarink, will certainly draw comparisons to stripped down ultra-low budget horror movies like Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch, Open Water, or even David Lynch’s Eraserhead. The horror in the film is mostly muted, deeply atmospheric, nearly plotless, and tediously paced by design, with 100 minutes of experimental horror shot on a reported microbudget of only $15,000. It’s a film with barely any actors in it other than a few child actors that whisper and appear in and out of the frame from time to time, but the film is mostly a collage of static shots, quiet ambient noises, whispering voices in the background, and abrupt sounds of doors opening, with televisions blaring in the background that transitions into white noise that all takes place inside of a house during very late hours. The film’s aesthetic is mostly blue, and aesthetically, it matches the blue room imagery in INLAND EMPIRE that felt like a spiritual realm in between a separate reality.
Skinamarink is a surreal mood piece that immerses you in any otherworldly realm where the camera feels like it’s eavesdropping in a completely different dimension where ghosts and spirits hide, and with that, the film has great build-up and effective aesthetics, but it’s capable of much more in its overlong running time of 100 minutes that begins to overstay its welcome near the 70-minute mark. A tighter edit with a few more scenes of its characters, along with some more horror and creepiness, would have made the journey even more memorable. It’s certainly worth experiencing, and is more hypnotic than eerie, but the film eventually feels one-note as the repetition wears on you. It’s a very quiet horror film, one that requires a lot of patience, and it will certainly divide audiences across the spectrum.
Courtesy IFC Midnight
There is always darkness with unmotivated lights throughout a vacated home that mainly consists of a television, Lego pieces scattered around, and a long-carpeted hallway. Often, we see a low angle shot of doorways, closets, and corridors. We see rooms that are mostly undressed with unmade beds, and then we cut into a bathroom, where a toilet dissolves in and out of two worlds. We also see a doorway vanish into thin air, and the film could easily be described as an avant-garde essay on the concept of time as we possibly see the past, present, and future emerging together. There are quite a few effective jump scares, some heightened with sound design, a few others with creepy images, including eerie eyes and a Barbie doll hanging off the ceiling that at first appears to be a claw that experiments with perception. In fact, the film could be viewed as a subchannel of children’s subconscious, anxieties, and fears during late hours. There is certainly a menacing presence at work in the film, but it’s left more as a lurking presence that you feel in the background rather than seeing it.
The film, shot by cinematographer Jamie McRae, uses actual film stock with grain that is used to create a creepy atmosphere, and the upside-down imagery of Legos and furniture ending up on the ceiling adds to the unnerving tone. While confidently succeeding in building the atmosphere, the film becomes exhausting with its pocky pacing and monotonous repetitions. While one could argue Lynch films, like many other forms of experimental filmmaking, are repetitive, nothing in Lynch’s work ever feels one-note.
The same can’t always be said about Skinamarink, which certainly works for long stretches, but eventually grows tedious. There is much to admire with Kyle Edward Ball’s directorial debut, especially with the aesthetics. This is a filmmaker that certainly shows great promise in building up tension, and he knows how to create an eerie world. The substance of the film is about this otherworld and what possibly exists in the spiritual realm of what we can only imagine. Eventually, we see the backs of the children of a little boy, Kevin (Lucas Paul), and his 6-year-old sister, Kaylee (Dalie Rose Treaut), who reside in the home alone.
What feels like a terrifying portrait of childhood abandonment gradually becomes more sinister once more sounds and images are revealed. While its style is far from being “all style with no substance,” the film would certainly have been more effective and creepier had it been tighter and more varied. Eventually, the narrative needed more presence from Kevin and Kaylee, or even more assorted camera work that could have made the atmosphere even more terrifying with their spiritual presence. Although the children’s whispers reveal their anxieties to a degree, they are mostly kept off screen, and they aren’t fleshed out enough to make it a true nail-biter. As the climax reveals the sinister nature at play, the film at that point loses its hypnotic power and becomes a grueling exercise that is undeniably a unique experience as well. For best results, see this in the theater or on a large projector with the lights out.
Skinamerink opens in Theaters Friday, Jan 13th.