Movie Review: Skinamarink

The horror genre seems to be the only one that genuinely rewards filmmakers for what they can accomplish with miniscule budgets. Hits like The Blair Witch Project ($60,000) and Paranormal Activity ($15,000) managed to scare audiences and rake in big bucks ($248 million and $193 million respectively) with minimal special effects and clever camera placement that force the viewer to imagine the horror themselves rather than explicitly showing it. Also made for just $15,000, Kyle Edward Ball’s Skinamarink takes the conceit even further, with nearly everything happening just off camera, making it feel more like an audioplay set to creepy imagery than a traditional movie. This approach will definitely put off some viewers, but having earned over $2 million in a post-COVID limited release, it’s clear that it strikes a nerve for some.

The minimal plot can be summed up pretty efficiently: young siblings Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) wake up to discover that their mother (Jaime Hill) and father (Ross Paul) are both missing, as are all of the exterior doors and windows of the house. The phone only emits a strange electronic humming noise, and so the children settle into the living room with their toys and VHS tapes of cartoons and try to occupy themselves while they wait for someone to hopefully help them. They become increasingly worried and disoriented as time goes on with no way of knowing if it is day or night, until a mysterious presence makes itself known to them and more strange events begin to transpire.

We almost never see any people throughout the entire movie, usually only hearing their voices paired with oblique camera angles or first-person perspectives. Taking place in 1995, everything looks like it has been recorded on videotape with static swirling around every shot and the flickering effect achieved by recording an old cathode ray tube television often the only source of illumination. It builds a mood that reminded me of being a child awakened in the middle of the night and venturing out into a darkened house, only able to see vague shadows and shapes, while the mind plays tricks and forms the outlines of dark, potentially malicious figures in a corner or at the end of a hallway. There aren’t a lot of more traditional “scares” to be had here, though there are a few quite effective ones, rather there is a sense of dread and disorientation that builds and builds as things get stranger and more nightmarish in the house, mimicking what the young leads must be feeling. The minimalism demanded by the budgetary constraints will not be for everyone, and it probably could have been trimmed down by 10 minutes or so, but no other movie has ever recreated that childlike sense of fear in me before or managed to have me begin to question what I had just seen, and even if the experience of watching it wasn’t beginning to make me go a little bit crazy. ★★★★

not rated. contains frightening & disturbing content, and violent images.

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★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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