It’s rare when horror fans get to experience a film that is genuinely scary. We all fall in love with horror movies at a time in our lives when we actually get frightened by them – after all, that’s what makes them so appealing in the first place. Eventually, however, after watching so many, that novelty begins to fade. You end up missing the times as a child watching shows like Goosebumps or Are You Afraid of the Dark? and not being able to sleep for the next week. Skinamarink is a film specifically designed to bring the audience back into that headspace. A child who is afraid of the dark and of the unknown.
Written and directed by Kyle Edward Ball, the film centers around Kevin and Kaylee, two children who wake up in the middle of the night to discover that their parents are missing and that all the windows and doors in the house are gone. Awaiting the supposed return of their parents, Kevin and Kaylee stay up all night watching old cartoons and playing with Legos. However, they soon discover that there’s an evil presence lurking in the house who is playing tricks on them.
As a child, it’s hard to discern reality from fiction. The older you get, the more you adapt to the world around you, and because of that, your mind starts to think more practically. When an adult falls asleep at night, they won’t be thinking about what malicious spirits might be hiding in the dark. When a child falls asleep at night, however, their imagination starts to run rampant, unable to be stopped by practicality or reason.
Skinamarink is not a logical or reasonable film by any means. Audiences will walk away claiming this film does not have a plot, but as someone who has seen it three times, I can say with confidence that this is not true. This film does have a plot, it’s just purposely incomprehensible. Things happen that make no sense, most of the dialogue is muffled and hard to understand, and because of this, the film has subtitles, which in turn contain many punctuation errors. To truly understand this film and feel its full effect, you need to give 100% of your attention to it, and even after doing so, you will still be required to take multiple leaps of faith and fill in the blanks. However, this is also what makes Skinamarink unbelievably successful in frightening its audience.
There is nothing scarier than the imagination, and all great horror films know this. In the case of Skinamarink, almost nothing is shown, and when something is shown, it is deeply obscured. This film doesn’t even have the decency to show the faces of the characters, so the audience has no idea what these kids look like. This leaves most of what happens up to the viewer’s imagination. In Skinamarink’s first act, most people will be bored and annoyed by the ambiguous nature of the film. However, the movie is purposeful in how it uses atmosphere to put the audience into a state of uncontrollable fear while their imagination starts to spiral out of control.
Skinamarink is simultaneously the quietest and loudest movie I’ve ever seen. The soft crackling of film grain is juxtaposed with frequent loud, distorted jumpscares, and after a while, the audience will be afraid of the slightest sound. The first time you see a shot of complete darkness, your brain will see only that. However, as the film moves further into this mysterious state between time and space, you’ll be overtaken by a sense of paranoia and will start seeing things that aren’t there.
Watching a late-night showing of this in a theater, unable to pause or turn the volume down before a loud jumpscare, was the closest thing I’ve had to a hallucinatory experience while watching a movie. It also made me feel like a kid discovering horror movies for the first time, feeling genuinely terrified by the images shown before me.
Of course, the powerful effects I’m describing will not be felt by all people who see this film. Most casual horror fans will probably hate this film because, unlike most horror movies, the scares here don’t come without a little bit of patience and hard work. Part of what makes Skinamarink work so well is that so little actually happens for the vast majority of it, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. This film has this alluring charm that’s stuck with me ever since I first saw it. It’s also an incredibly inspiring film considering what the creators were able to accomplish with a $15,000 budget, and the fact that this movie is in theaters and that people are talking about brings me so much joy. Skinamarink is an entrancing experience that will scare those whose imagination knows no bounds.
Skinamarink hits Shudder on Feb. 2.