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Horror is on a high, we all know this to be true. Not just within the realms of major franchises but in original work that has come from major studios or the independent scene. So, how about we kick off 2023 in the same way with a film that has already been met with incredible financial success overseas, but also about as polarising a response as you could possibly get. And it now finds a home on horror streamer Shudder.
A true original. Something that will be met with strong opinion. This is horror on a stripped back and challenging scale. This folks, is Skinamarink.
To outline the plot is rather difficult because, 1.) It is so very pulled back that you kind of create your own film here based on your reading of it and 2.) At face value it sounds very vague and the film itself is equally shrouded. Skinamarink sees two children awake at night, their parents are gone and they wander the dark hallways of their home, with only the TV screens for light, and the doors and windows of their home have vanished.
Writer/director Kyle Edward Ball’s directorial debut could not be much braver than this. Tapping into primal horrors of the human condition, especially those formed in the darkest parts of childhood imagination, this experimental horror film makes monsters of the dark, evil of the non-diegetic sound in the night, and ghouls off of youthful fears and anxieties. Isolation, the mind, and horrifying imagery based on objects of childhood joy are the order of the day here, and the narrative is entirely open to interpretation. With the film not so much leading you by the hand (dialogue is kept minimal and abstract), as taping your eyes open before an experience that feels like the video from Ringu if it were real.
Forming an opinion on Skinamarink is difficult, as I am still torn as to what to think fully. I admire its experimental psychological horror and applaud seeing a horror experience that is completely unlike anything else out there. From its ’70s style grainy camerawork that captures any faceless character from behind or at feet level, to its echoing sinister mood. However, I feel as though the film may have perhaps fared better as a short (or at least shorter feature), as 100 minutes in its unique company and aesthetic really does come to strand you, further and further in the shadows.
Skinamarink could have used a few more firm narrative points to piece together a sometimes narrativeless feeling viewing. As frustration does set in with some repeated tactics and long drawn out moments, and the last stretch especially comes to distort earlier perceptions of its story wildly. Which may spin things too far out of orbit for many.
That said, the atmosphere is often unbearably unsettling and the film’s nightmarish quality suits it well to much extent, as you are certainly laser focused, seeing things in the static and fearing the unknown of the dark. Occasionally forming images from this blackness and its visual imperfections.
A select audience will crown Skinamarink as a new classic in horror, while others will likely dismiss it as ‘hallway: the movie’. What you make of this one depends on a number of factors but whatever the case, it is a very distinctive, if sometimes infuriating, vision.
Likely not something I shall watch again, but neither is it a viewing I regret. Interesting, effective and flawed.