Occasionally, a horror film that tries something different with the tried and tested genre comes along. This can range wildly from found footage blockbusters like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, or it can be more experimental like David Lynch’s Eraserhead or Lars Von Trier’s AntiChrist. Following in those eclectic footsteps is Kyle Edward Ball’s Skinamarink, based on his short film from 2020 Heck; this feature expansion was shot over seven days, and the entire production was completed for just $15000. Landing in the UK earlier this year on Shudder, Skinamarink finally arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on July 3.
Set in the mid-90s, siblings Kevin and his older sister Kaylee wake up in the dead of night to discover that their father has vanished without a trace. It’s not just their parent that has disappeared as objects, windows, and even doors have also vanished from the house. Deciding that they will be safe downstairs with the comfort of cartoons and a pillow fort, it’s not long before their hopes for an adult to rescue them from an unfolding nightmare are answered with the realization that something is watching them from within the house.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing; without it, the vast majority of the film industry would collapse, but here nostalgia is used to disturb and get under the audience’s skin. It should be made clear that this is not a conventionally shot film; the characters rarely appear on screen in full frame, dialogue isn’t so much spoken as overheard, and sound is used as a weapon. Floating somewhere between an abstract painting and a half-remembered recurring childhood nightmare, Skinamirank trades in how horrifying the world can be through the eyes of a child. As the camera remains at child height for the film’s duration, it is one of the many clever tactics that help create a growing sense of unease.
We can all recall being irrationally scared of something when we were young; on a stormy night, tree branches would tap the window, the wind would howl like a monstrous creature, and the late-night glow from the TV was always creepy. We’ve seen some wild horrors in recent years with Ari Astar’s Hereditary and Midsommar, James Wan’s divisive yet bonkers Malignant, and The Witch director Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse all fully commit to their respective ambitious stories. The same can be said for writer/director Kyle Edward Ball; he’s crafted a subversive, unsettlingly, and highly experimental magic eye picture of a film. Skinamarink won’t be for everybody with its divisive style, but it’s hauntingly effective.