I can’t quite place my finger on when audiences last received an experimental horror like Kyle Edward Ball’s Skinamarink, and I think that’s because a lot of filmmakers would be too intimidated to take a crack at it. Making a movie like Skinamarink requires a filmmaker to be brave, insane, self-aware yet purposely reject what qualifies as entertainment nowadays, and completely commit to the film’s static presentation. Ball has all of these traits, which is why I allow the movie to play “hard to get” with my admiration.
The first time I watched Skinamarink, because of how the trailer’s foreboding tone sold the movie, I was anticipating a Paranormal Activity-like horror – the type of resourceful scary movie that tinkers with your imagination. Bell’s movie delivered on that level, but it was more stripped down than expected. Taken from a child’s point-of-view as two disturbed young siblings try to find their parents in the middle of the night, Skinamarink plays with perspective by distorting the lighting and shadows within a space to issue concerning disorientation. Because the camera offers a variety of angles, the geography of the house ends up not making any sense, and the confusion only heightens when the kids discover that doors and windows are missing. Shadows start looking as if they’re creeping closer and door frames start looking like someone’s shoulders. An ominous voice is heard from the unknown, asking the kids to follow its orders.
Skinamarink’s story is more of a loose premise that the production turns into more of an intimate “experience”. This caused me to give the movie another watch – this time, watching the movie using headphones instead of my television’s speakers. On a second viewing, the viewer can tell just how integral the audio design is for Skinamarink. The range of tone in the sinister voice is an inconsistent string of frequency distortions, which makes the evil force scarier.
Skinamarink is painstakingly slow, but it moves at a pace that is absolutely deliberate. The movie is a classic example of how filmmakers can do so much once they earn their audience’s trust. For instance, nighttime noises that seem normal are used to bring the audience closer to a relatable atmosphere, but then those sounds reveal how much of a disguise they are for other strange and inexplicable happenings. A requirement for this reveal is for it to unfold gradually; to ease closer to the movie goers in order to gain a close relationship with them. However, a creative choice like this seems like Kyle Edward Ball is self-sabotaging himself and his work. He knows the risk and, because of that, his effort pays off well for those who can wait.
Movie goers have tied the horror of Skinamarink to their own personal memories as scared children. I couldn’t find a personal bridge like that, but I did find it to be an affective first-hand window into the mind of a sleepwalker who is constantly on the verge of having the worst nightmare they’ve ever had. What will your theory be?
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie