“Skinamarink” is a dark, meditative journey into pure madness with some seriously chilling moments and an ambiguous plot that leaves audiences with more questions than answers. Fans of experimental horror films such as David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” or the Japanese cult-classic “House” will likely get something out of watching it. However, the painstakingly slow pace probably won’t grab the attention of the average viewer.
The first feature-length film from writer and director Kyle Edward Ball, “Skinamarink” was shot in a single house on a $15,000 budget and has made over a million dollars at the box office since its Jan. 13 theatrical release.
“Skinamarink” follows a brother and sister, 4-year-old Kevin and 6-year-old Kaylee. After Kevin injures himself falling down the stairs, they both wake up in the middle of the night to find parts of their house, like the doors, windows and even the toilet, are disappearing.
The film draws upon the near-universal childhood experience of waking up from a nightmare in the middle of the night in a dark house to scare you, where everything suddenly seems unfamiliar and disorienting in the swirling dark and you’re irrationally afraid of what could hide in the shadow behind the closet door.
Whether “Skinamarink” succeeds in actually viscerally scaring is subjective to the viewer. It’s not a movie that tries to make you scream by having a masked killer jump out from behind a curtain and hack apart a victim over and over. Instead, it slowly fills you with unease and dread as you try to make sense of what’s happening until it completely spins out of control.
There’s a handful of jump scares scattered throughout that feel cheap and maybe even unnecessary when “Skinamarink” is so excellent at building tension and probing the fear of the unknown.
The jump scares conflict with the experimental nature and pacing of the film as well, as they are a tired horror movie trope more often seen in boring horror films than anywhere else. The sudden shock of a jump scare also takes you out of the hypnotic trance the film tries to put you in and makes it harder to get back into it after the crescendo of tension is broken.
The sometimes snail-like pace of “Skinamarink” will also be a turnoff for many viewers.
A lot of the shots in “Skinamarink” are pure darkness or a long pan over a blank wall or something just as mundane, all of which are edited to have a very intense layer of swirling, psychedelic TV static and film grain, constantly morphing and undulating and making fractal-like patterns in the darkness.
Dialogue is sparse throughout “Skinamarink,” and what’s there is usually unintelligible and accompanied by subtitles. This is another part that just works for you or it doesn’t.
The distorted audio and lack of dialogue is an artistic choice that reinforces the visual aspect of “Skinamarink,” but combined with the sluggish pace and ambiguous plot, it makes for a polarizing experience that many people will simply find boring.
However, if you find these aspects enticing rather than off-putting and want to give “Skinamarink” a chance, it’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you can catch it in a theater.
“Skinamarink” is currently showing in theaters and will be streaming on Shudder Feb. 2.