A very small boy, Kevin (Lucas Paul), and his littler sister Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault), both in pajamas with bare feet, appear to be on their own in an old two-story house, the eldest’s calls for ‘Daddy’ going unanswered. Their only company is a television playing what appears to be a continuous loop of vintage cartoons. When a strange, ominous voice begins issuing instructions, it doesn’t appear to be the unresponsive woman (Jaime Hill) we find upstairs in a bedroom, instead something from within the house itself, a house which has begun to shapeshift in “Skinamarink.”
Laura's Review: B
“Skinamarink,” famously made for $15,000 by writer/director Kyle Edward Ball, has had the Internet abuzz since its debut at Canada’s Fantasia Film festival last summer, many, including “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” director Jane Schoenbrun, calling it the most terrifying film they’ve ever seen. But while I admire what Ball has done with so little, it needs to be said that “Skinamarink” is more experimental art film that straight out horror, one with eerie moments, yes, but not one which I found all that frightening. If David Lynch read Mark Z. Danielewski’s ‘House of Leaves’ then directed an installment of “Paranormal Activity” or a remake of “Poltergeist” it might turn out something like “Skinamarink.”
The film’s imagery is purposefully murky, grainy and shot in low light, the camera rarely pointed directly at anything, instead focusing on kids’ legs from the knees down and the stairs and hallways upon which they patter or upwards where the wall meets the ceiling, which can appear to be the floor. One thinks of “Poltergeist” because of that ever present television, the sound of cartoons an unsettling omnipresence (the film’s sound design is extraordinary, although you will strain to understand the minimal dialogue), and such odd sights as a chair hanging from the ceiling or a vintage Fisher Price Chatter Phone ominously appearing from the gloom.
Occasionally we will hear the children speak, Kaylee suggesting it’s time to get up, Kevin telling his sister she has to see something (a fashion doll just hangs against a wall, a VHS tape on the ceiling). That voice – is it the dad we never see? – demands Kevin ‘Look under the bed,’ later telling him ‘Kaylee didn’t do what she was told. I took her mouth away,’ confirming the horrific sight we thought we’d seen earlier.
Ball says he was trying to recreate childhood nightmares, but a film that can put one in mind of Elias Merhige’s “Begotten” one moment and “The Blair Witch Project” the next doesn’t seem to have quite pulled that off, its references too adult. The film’s final images, what appears to be different perspectives of a collection of all the objects we’ve seen scattered around the house gathered into a net being lowered into a swimming pool, looks like a MOMA installation.
“Skinamarink” is a unique and unsettling experience rather than a film with anything approaching a regular narrative. Don’t go into it expecting a typical fright fest and you may be surprised, but the film might prove disappointing for those expecting otherwise.
Robin's Review: D
IFC Midnight releases "Skinamarink" in theaters on 1/13/23. It will stream on Shudder later in the year.