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Starring: Lucas Paul, Ross Paul, Dali Rose Tetreault
Review: RJ Bland
Back in 2022 (seems like a lifetime ago already doesn't it!), a weird little ultra low-budget movie was leaked onto the internet and created something of a buzz. So much so, that on Tik Tok, some said it was the scariest thing they'd ever seen. You have to take those kind of claims with a pinch of salt admittedly. We do live in an age of hyper exaggeration at both ends of the scale. Either way, the film became a bit of a sleeper hit at the box office, taking a cool $1.5m – not bad considering the film only cost around $15,000 to make. This lo-fi found-footage film drew comparisons with perhaps the pinnacle entry of that particular sub-genre, The Blair Witch Project (1999). It's fair to say that there has been quite a bit of hype around Kyle Edward Ball's Skinamarink (within horror circles at least). But with hype comes expectation and now the film has landed on Shudder, a new wave of viewers are getting to see what all the fuss is about. Is it the unsettling nightmare that some claim it is? Or is it just one big failed experiment? We followed the advice of those who had seen it before us. We turned off our lights, our phone and cranked up the audio...
Is there a clear definable plot for Skinamarink? No. Well, yes. Sort of. But barely. It's 1995. Two young children, Kaylee and Kevin, wake up in the middle of the night to find that their father is missing. Much to their confusion, they also discover that all of the doors and windows have vanished. Unable to get back to sleep, they set up camp in the living room and watch some old cartoons in the dark. Which, let's face it, is probably what I'd have done when I was six and in the same situation. However, when objects start turning up in weird places and a displaced voice begins communicating with them, it becomes clear that someone – or something – is watching over them...
It's a set up that's pretty straightforward (if obviously supernatural) on paper. But truth be told it probably helps to read the log line before going in because the fragmented narrative and intentionally obscure direction mean that it's really quite a challenge to fathom what is actually happening for much of the running time. Going in completely blind may make for a more pure viewing experience but it could also feel even more disorientating.
Has there been a more divisive horror movie in the last decade? Possibly, but it's difficult to recall any that have polarised people quite so much. Some view it as the closest thing to a waking nightmare they have ever witnessed. Something that has deeply affected them on a subconscious level. Whilst others have given up after ten minutes, accusing the film of being a borefest. The truth is that both opinions are merited. As with all genre films, true horror is in the eye of the beholder. What scares one person may have no effect on the next. Some films are proficient at satisfying a wider spectrum by offering up more traditional scares (think films such as The Conjuring ) but Skinamarink conjures up a very particular brand of fear. One that is dependent on our anxiety of what could potentially be lurking out of frame or in the pixelated darkness and by our sheer inability to wrap our brains around what we are seeing. It's like a super long rendition of that creepy ass video from Ringu (1998). Cartoons and toys and parental figures, things that are usually safe, become indiscernibly eerie. The effect may be subtle and disconcerting but there are a handful of scenes that push Skinamarink into the overtly sinister.
The potential issue for viewers (and even to some extent those that the scares work for) are the periods where nothing really happens. Shot after shot of a floor full of lego and the upper third of a wall can indeed be testing. And even the majority of the film's biggest advocates will admit that the 100 minute running time is overkill – and that snipping twenty minutes or so off the run time would definitely make for a tighter watch. This is experimental horror and it's not going to connect with a significant swathe of people watching. Things will quickly feel jarring and frustrating if you are not on its wavelength, but if you can fine tune to its frequency, then the film could well lull you into its nightmarish domain.
Like Enys Men, the film's dubiety will mean that those who connected with it will probably be thinking about it for some time afterwards too. Especially those final few seconds...
Probably one of the most polarising horror films of the last decade, Skinamarink will either leave you chilled to the bone or somewhat bored. Or both of those things simultaneously. Either way, we're just glad that it exists.
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