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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Skinamarink: Review

Skinamarink Synopsis: Two children wake up in the middle of the night to find their father is missing, and all the windows and doors in their home have vanished.

An ominous presence haunts two children in search of their parents in Skinamarink. Following its premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival, Skinamarink has gradually developed into a viral cult sensation. Writer/director Kyle Edward Ball originated from humble YouTube short film roots before crafting a microbudget $15,000 debut film that boasts an idiosyncratic approach to horror filmmaking.

The narrative behind Ball's feature is a remarkable tale. Skinamarink suddenly leaked online amidst its festival run - a development that usually becomes a death knell for most independent productions. Instead, the leak sparked a wave of conversation on social media outlets, including several applauding the movie as "one of the scariest films ever made." Skinamarink successfully parlayed its glowing word-of-mouth into a prosperous theatrical run that's already cemented Ball as a name to watch in the genre.

As a fan of arthouse films, Skinamarink's success imbues me with genuine happiness for Ball and his achievements. I only wish I could express those same sentiments about the film itself.

Akin to Paranormal Activity, Skinamarink examines the everyday terrors found in life's mundanity. Ball conjures a retrograde VHS visual aesthetic that quietly maneuvers through each crevice of an average house. In place of a traditional narrative, Ball presents his avant-garde film as a mood piece embedded inside the perspective of two innocent children who are mystified by disorienting changes occurring in their homestead. Every muffled whisper and jarring environment change act as methods for eliciting fear within the supposed comforts of suburbia.

Ball's vision boasts considerable artistic merit. He transforms his low-budget assets into a genuine strength across his production, with the lo-fi stylistic imprint delivering a certain allure in its hazy unease. I also commend the filmmaker for striving towards ambitious thematic meditations. The adolescent perspective driving Skinamarink forward places viewers in the shoes of two characters engrossed in a terrifying hellscape. However, any understanding of this nightmarish reality lies far beyond their comprehension.

These elements are all thoughtful conceptually, yet the pieces never developed into an immersive whole for me. Adapted from a short film Ball created, Skinamarink struggles to justify its excessive 100-minute runtime. Even as someone who prefers more subdued films, large portions of the experience can feel tedious - and judging by the three walkouts that occurred during my screening - I think that effect could be more prominent for general audiences. The film's meandering approach works in spurts at cultivating a sense of unavoidable dread before eventually running out of steam. I was left wishing that Skinamarink captured me with the gripping atmosphere it tries to convey.

Thematically, Skinamarink feels equally unsatisfying. Digging into how underdeveloped adolescents' mindsets can perceive an indescribable phenomenon with paralyzing fear is a great concept. Heck, I bet everyone has an indelible image or two of some seemingly ordinary thing that haunted their childhood dreams. While conceptually promising, I rarely felt that Skinamarink developed its ideas with much substance. The film relies heavily on the audience projecting their thoughts and feelings rather than offering a well-rounded thesis from its own perspective.

Skinamarink is a film I consistently admired but was rarely engrossed by. Still, I can't help but celebrate its existence. It's a wholly unique cinematic experience bound to draw passionate and divisive responses from viewers. For me, that is something art should always represent.

Skinamarink is now playing in theaters before releasing on Shudder on February 2.


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