'Skinamarink' review: Experimental horror film is a tediously long exercise
Courtesy of Shudder/IFC
Kyle Edward Ball’s intriguing and at times hypnotic found-footage style horror film “Skinamarink” is built on the premise of bringing childhood fears to life. Crowdfunded and shot on a shoestring budget of $15,000, “Skinamarink” deserves major credit for breaking through the noise of mainstream horror and becoming a viral hit, reflecting a 1990s time period that’s shrouded in the dark afterglow of your worst nightmares. Visually, the movie looks as though you’ve stumbled upon an archaic VHS tape complete with film clacks and ASMR whispers as two mostly unseen children experience strange supernatural occurrences after they discover their parents are missing. The movie smartly assumes, thanks to the grainy presentation and minimalist set-up, your mind will trick you into thinking something is on the screen when in reality it could be nothing.
I screened the movie in the dark with no distractions and wore headphones for the full experience, and while the premise of “Skinamarink” is an interesting thesis, ultimately, at least to this viewer, the film overextends its hand. For brief stretches, the movie offers the occasional nightmarish sequence (and features a spine tingling jump scare), and the steady dread of one’s mind piecing together imagery out of shadows and dark corridors is smart, but running close to the two hour mark renders it an experimental dud. It would’ve worked as a tight 45-minute short-film, but instead it feels constantly sluggish and, worse, has no payoff.
That’s because most of “Skinamarink” is a collection of stills and grainy footage. What plot does exist follows young siblings Kevin and Kaylee (Lucas Paul and Dali Rose Tetreault) who are on a quest to find out what happened to mom and dad. Upon waking up, they notice the doors and windows have all vanished and many objects spread across the floor have been manipulated while the TV constantly plays the same cartoon over and over. It’s unsettling, but after the first 20-minutes of this cycle, you begin to wonder where the film will take us.
A coagulation of the Creepypasta phenomena that’s taken over internet culture, “Skinamarink” isn’t short on the ideas Ball is constantly tinkering with (early onset depression, loneliness, the fear of adolescence) and I’m sure, depending on who you asked, the interpretation of the events will be dissected differently. But the same tedious loop often yields the same tedious results where, at about the hour mark, Ball can’t sustain the momentum. The movie thrives in its vagueness, except that’s also its greatest weakness and though I wouldn’t go as far to say “Skinamarink” falls into elevated horror, the reaction will be incredibly divisive. Sure, “Skinamarink” eventually gets style points for delivering a uniquely constructed ambiance, except the final (and mediocre) results aren’t worth the time and effort to get there.
SKINAMARINK opens in theaters Friday, January 13th.