The greatest thing I can say about Kyle Edward Ball’s _Skinamarink_ (2022) is that it truly made me doubt my sense of time. As I lost the battle with my self-control and reached for my phone to check the time I was struck by a sudden fear that no time - or at least very little - had actually passed. I was relieved to find I made it nearly an hour and a half before looking.
The Skinny: _Skinamarink_ is an experimental horror film set in 1995 and filmed in the writer/director’s childhood home. Kaylee (age unspecified but older than Kevin) and Kevin (age 4) wake to find their father missing, as well as exterior doors, windows, and … the powder room toilet. The crackling living room tv offers comfort and normality in the form of old black and white cartoons, but a busy phone line emphasizes that no help is coming from the outside. The audience is trapped with these young children in the dark, not knowing what is going on.
As the previews were rolling I turned to Doctor S and complained about the grandiose landscapes of Marvel movies. “GIVE ME a movie shot in one room in a guy’s house for $15,000!” I exclaimed excitedly. But from the moment the film began in earnest (“oh no, is it going to crackle like that the whole time? It’s going to crackle like that the whole time…”) my enthusiasm dropped.
The aesthetics of the film were achingly familiar; I was ten in 1995, older than the children in the film, but still in their generation, and so much of their home was my own childhood home. I watched those old cartoons. I moved in spaces still decorated from the 80s. My brothers and I had those toys. The lights and sounds were so very familiar. So, too, was the fear: the anxiety of waking up in the middle of the night and moving through a space made foreboding by the darkness. Walking into my parents’ room and being afraid of what I’d find (or not find). Getting up to pee but being too afraid. Ominous dark staircases. This is the actual greatest success of the film: it very well captures the fear of being a small child at night (at least for millennials?).
The failures quickly overwhelm this success. First and foremost, Doctor S and I agreed that building a movie on the fear of children is too far for us. He called the film “torture porn featuring children.” I don’t fully agree with the term (I don’t associate torture porn with psychological torture), but I found myself more upset that the children were so scared and upset than intrigued or fascinated or even scared by the movie itself. I felt _bad_ for them. I’m not against children in horror - _The Exorcist_ may be my favorite film, and _Hereditary_ was excellent - but this was an emotional step too far.
Perhaps it felt too far because the movie itself just isn’t any good. The simulated degraded home-VHS was grating and distracting, and the camera work was lazy. What begins as an interesting technique of auditory narrative and static, high-gazing or predominantly static visuals became a crutch for a film that hides because it doesn’t actually have anything to show. It came across as egotistical: a director seeing what he could get away with, what he could make an audience sit through. It attempts to achieve what found footage movies have already accomplished (think _Blair Witch_ (1999)) but does so without any attempt at narrative.
In the end Doctor S and I tried to create a narrative; I suggested that Kevin is in a coma after falling down the stairs, and S argued that Kevin died from a brain hemorrhage after his fall and is haunting the house with a second dark entity. Six hours later we gave up that ghost:
Dr. X: And there’s a hole in our “Kevin is dead/in a coma” assumptions: Kaylee has a narrative separate from Kevin’s experiences
Doctor S: I was thinking about that. The narrative doesn’t give us much to work with. I guess the alternative to a these things were actually in the real world? But that’s dumb. But it was a dumb movie so who knows. Maybe they’re in some kind of shared purgatory and she elevated first.
Dr. X: I think my final vote is that the writer/director didn’t think about the story … at all. He seemed more invested in fucking with the audience and seeing what he could get away with
Doctor S: I think you’re right. Again with the m‘great 20 minute concept’
Final conclusion: sophomoric with cheap jump scares and discomfort instead of horror.