Just one month into 2023 and horror’s success at the post-pandemic box office continues. Though it’s not a box office hit along the lines of M3gan, Canadian DIY horror Skinamarink has generated the kind of buzz most movies will never enjoy. It’s about as barebones as it gets. First, writer and director Kyle Edward Ball pilot tested his concept on YouTube, filming bits based on user comments about personal nightmares. Subsequently he gave the concept a more full treatment in his short movie, Heck. Before Shudder exclusively platformed the experimental horror movie for streaming, Skinamarink generated just north of $1.5 million on a $15, 000 budget.
It’s the middle of the night and two young children – Kaylee and Kevin – wake up to find their father missing. All the doors and windows to the outside are gone, too. Soon a strange, disembodied voice begins making frightening demands of the children.
Skinamarink Experiments With Surrealist Imagery
Don’t go into Skinamarink expecting anything remotely resembling a traditional narrative. Or any narrative for that matter. This experimental DIY Canada horror is about as surrealist as it gets. What writer and director Kyle Edward all has created looks and operates more like a nightmare. There’s a loose premise that holds together each scene. But Ball mostly focuses on atmosphere and haunting images. Most viewers who don’t read the synopsis may struggle to understand ‘what’ and ‘why’ things are happening. Yet that’s not the point of Skinamarink. Like a genuine nightmare, Ball doesn’t want you to understand what’s going on – he wants you to feel something.
What writer and director Kyle Edward all has created looks and operates more like a nightmare.
And Skinamarink absolutely feels like a nightmare regardless of its shoestring budget. In fact, the micro-budget only helps make this Canuck thriller more immersive. In addition to its grainy picture, Ball shoots everything at strange angles or extreme close-ups that cut off most of the scene. It’s classic expressionist film-making that adds a feeling of claustrophobia to the mix. There’s a handful of jump scares, but most of Skinamarink focuses on atmosphere, aesthetics, and suggestion. When Ball wants to make your skin crawl, he’s extremely effective at it. Benign children’s toys become menacing and a voice with no body is about as scary as any onscreen horror villain. Oftentimes Skinamarink is an unnerving horror movie that keeps you sitting at the edge of your seat.
Skinamarink Stretches Its Concept Thin With Overlength
Though it’s often unnerving, Skinamarink tests the limits of audience patience. That is, Ball’s approach to the material isn’t so much a slow burn as it is ‘stop and go’. With no real story containing its images, there’s no actual build-up to anything. Things just sort of end on what’s an admittedly disturbing note. However, Skinamarink clocks in at a weighty 100 minutes, which is pretty long for a movie with no real story. Very little happens for at least the first 20 minutes. And long gaps between ‘stuff happening’ often de-escalates the tension rather than slowly ramping it up. To his credit, Ball maintains a firm grasp on the unsettling vibe that characterizes his indie effort. Yet it’s hard to deny that the movie would benefit from trimming a good 20 minutes from its runtime.
…Ball’s approach to the material isn’t so much a slow burn as it is ‘stop and go’. With no real story containing its images, there’s no actual build-up to anything.
Moreover, Ball’s commitment to the look and feel of a nightmare means we’re never properly introduced to any characters. No one character in Skinamarink ever fully appears on screen. We know the children are named Kaylee and Kevin but Ball never lets us know anything about these characters, which is likely by design. Still its effect is that there are no real stakes in the thriller. As a result, performances here are irrelevant. We’re unnerved by what’s happening on the screen because of the mood Ball establishes, not due to the story or investment in the characters. Whether Skinamarink sustains multiple viewings with this approach remains to be seen.
Skinamarink a Landmark Entry Into the Horror Genre
Regardless of whether you liked Skinamarink, horror fans should be celebrating its success. With its barebones production values and viral success, this is another Blair Witch Project that epitomizes the DIY spirit of indie horror. And there’s no denying that there are inspired moments of dread and disturbing moments. Ball has almost perfectly re-created the look and feel of a nightmare. But Skinamarink clocks in at 100 minutes, which is a lot of time to fill for a minimalist, art-house horror movie. While there’s lots of inventive bit worthy of praise, there’s also lots of empty gaps that cut into the movie’s suspense. As a result, Skinamarink may alienate some viewers. Nevertheless, this is a landmark genre achievement that horror fans should check out and support.