Directed by Kyle Edward Ball
Written by Kyle Edward Ball
Starring Lucas Paul, Dali Rose
Release Date January 13th, 2023
Skinamarink is some kind of endurance test for the modern attention span. This buzzy Canadian horror film tests the patience of audiences via a series of stylish cuts, whispered dialogue, and intriguing ideas that go absolutely nowhere. I have a theory; I think Kyle Edward Ball is an excellent filmmaker who decided that he wanted to test audiences. Thus, he made a movie that is artfully crafted but intentionally nonsensical. Skinamarink is really a taunt and how you react to that taunt is how you react to Skinamarink.
Providing a plot description for Skinamarink is... really not that hard. Two kids are trapped in their home and their parents are either not home or acting strange and actively staying hidden. Kevin and Kaylee are four-year-old siblings who have awakened in the middle of the night. They can't find their parents and it appears, to them, that their home no longer has doors or windows through which they might escape. These very young children have some basic survival skills, they eat cereal and watch cartoons on TV and generally listen for whatever instruction an adult, be it their parents or some demonically possessed voice, gives them.
All the while, as Kevin and Kaylee pass the time, occasionally searching for mom or dad or investigating various intriguing noises, the camera cuts from one piece of architecture to another. The camera will sit static for a length of time, perhaps something moves in the frame, mostly you, the audience, simply search around the frame looking for something to happen and then nothing does happen. This is intentional, you assume, because it must be setting up for when something in the frame does finally happen, when something does finally move.
This goes on for nearly 100 minutes. From time to time, you catch a snatch of dialogue. Early on, you hear the father, apparently on the phone, talking about how someone may have been injured and taken to the hospital. Was it mom? Was it another, unseen sibling? We will never know, and dad is never actually seen on screen, as far as I can remember. Mom is seen, briefly, I think. The movie plays with darkness in an interesting way as it mirrors the way the human mind tries to make sense of something it can only kind of see.
If you have ever been in a dark room, you can recognize the emotional tension of staring at something and trying to either determine what it is or use logic to remind yourself what it is. It's that thing where a coat on a coat rack can look like a person standing up, if there isn't enough light to show you that it's just a coat. So, we enter the parents' bedroom and it looks like Mom is sitting on the bed, but is it mom? Or is it an image your mind is inventing to make sense of what you see? Good idea, but this goes on for a while. Also, the dialogue seems to indicate that, yeah, that's mom, she's just possessed by a demon or something. Maybe... who knows.
Perhaps the idea is to film a possession thriller through the eyes of a four-year-old? Honestly, I don't know. If writer-director Kyle Edward Bell told me that the whole movie was just a prank he is playing to see how long he can convince people they are watching a movie that isn't really a movie, I would believe that. There are elements of the Paranormal Activity franchise, there are echoes of Cronenberg at his most experimental, but there is also just a whole lot of nothing happening in Skinamarink. \
I don't want to completely dismiss Skinamarink. I like the style and some of the elements are very intriguing. But, the movie is also 100 minutes of not a lot happening. It feels just a little like the movie is intended as an indictment on the modern attention span. It's like the movie is a taunt, a challenge to a movie-goer to see how long they are willing or able to stay in their seat and pay attention. Then again, I can also completely understand why so many people are responding positively to Skinamarink. It's eery and strange and rather arfully conceived.
I'm told that Kyle Edward Bell was once a YouTuber whose gimmick was having people tell him about a dream they had and then he would recreate it using the tools of filmmaking. That's a cool idea. Skinamarink has that kind of dream-like, nightmare-like feeling. Mission accomplished if that's what he was going for, a full-length cinematic recreation of a dream. That said, if you've even had someone relate a dream to you in great detail, you know how insufferable that can sometimes be. I can absolutely sympathize with someone who finds Skinamarink insufferable in the same way.
How do I feel about Skinamarink? I am of two minds. I was annoyed and bored while watching it. And yet, I recognize the worthy effort of it. I recognize the artfulness, I recognize the idea at play, the notion of exploring horror through the eyes of very young children. I like wandering around in the idea of a space being both familiar and unfamiliar, there is horror to be found in the uncanny valley of dreams. That said, I never want to watch Skinamarink again. Not because the movie is too frightening or disturbing, but rather because I don't want to stare at crown molding for minutes at a time. Is that me suffering from the modern attention span? Perhaps, but I have had more fun watching a three minute tik tok video than I did waiting for something to happen in Skinamarink.
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