How was your childhood? Did you ever lie awake at night in bed, watching shadows crawl across your walls?
Did you zone out staring at the ceiling as patterns appeared in its texture? Did you ever feel like the night was never going to end, that your parents would never come home or that the world was slipping away around you and you would never be able to leave your house?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then Skinamarink might deeply unsettle you too.
Skinamarink is the directorial debut of Edmontonian Kyle Edward Ball, who crowdfunded and filmed the movie on a budget of only US$15,000. After screenings at a couple of film festivals, the movie leaked and began circulating online, drawing rapturous praise on various social media platforms for terrifying viewers.
The film had previously secured a distribution deal through Shudder and IFC Midnight, but its viral success propelled Skinamarink to be shown across North America and gross over US$1 million so far — a remarkable achievement for such a DIY film.
The movie follows two children through a seemingly endless night in their suburban home. Their parents are nowhere to be found, the windows have disappeared and their television is on the fritz. This is all the plot summary I can offer. Not out of fear of spoiling the film, but because there is not much more plot to speak of.
Skinamarink is instead a sort of audiovisual experiential piece, evoking fear and relation by replicating the existential confusion of being a child, alone and without comfort in the world.
The movie was shot in Ball’s own childhood home, and it takes place entirely in the dark. You rarely see people’s faces and you never see anybody talk.
Most shots are static images of blank walls and ceilings. The rare snippets of dialogue largely come from the two children, who whisper short phrases in the dark to each other over the sounds of old cartoons on the television.
Ball overlaid the whole thing with an uncanny film distortion filter so intense that it borders on psychedelic. It’s like rubbing your eyes so hard that you see lights for the whole movie.
Skinamarink was one of the most unnerving, terrifying experiences I have had in recent memory. It reduced me to a scared child and tapped into fears that I had not thought of in years. But it is also a very hard movie to watch.
I cannot overstate how strange it is, and audience reaction has, understandably, been polarized. It has a lot more in common with Eraserhead or Inland Empire than it does with other low-budget horror hits like Paranormal Activity.
This is a movie best experienced alone and in the dark, with as few distractions as possible. It is unbelievably slow for the first hour and requires a lot of patience.
The reward for that patience is not entirely pleasant either — like I said, you might feel like a scared child. But it is something you will have never experienced before, and that’s a rare enough thing these days that I think it warrants celebration.
Skinamarink will screen at the Dave Barber Cinematheque from Feb. 17 to 19, and will be coming to the Shudder streaming service later in 2023.