"Skinamarink" a singular exercise that's effective and then tedious

Skinamarink (2023)

When you’re a kid, your imagination can run wild in the dark, even in a familiar and safe place such as your house. Canadian filmmaker Kyle Edward Ball taps into that nearly indescribable feeling for his directorial debut “Skinamarink,” a lo-fi, experimental nightmare made for a paltry $15,000 in his childhood home. While much of the film feels like a haunted (and often visually haunting) curiosity that was never supposed to be seen by human eyes, the result is simultaneously deeply unsettling and deeply frustrating. It’s a divisive one, for sure. Is “Skinamarink” an effective past-your-bedtime creeper? Or, is it a monotonous experiment with a lot of grainy, static shots of ceilings, baseboards, and feet on carpeted floors? It’s really a bit of both, nonetheless leaving you in a fugue state and enveloping you in its atmosphere. 

In 1995, two children, Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault), wake up in the middle of the night in their family home with a couple of discoveries. Their father has disappeared, along with the windows and doors. If that sounds straightforward, it is, but the visual approach is far more abstract when so little actually happens. Defiantly eschewing any kind of conventional filmmaking, the film’s young characters are framed at the knees and down to the floor, and we never actually see their faces. The majority of the sound design includes hushed whispers and often-subtitled dialogue. There’s also a pitch-black abyss with the only real light coming from a TV playing old cartoons and a flashlight.

Slinking into one’s subconscious as if placed under a spell, “Skinamarink” is much more of an experiential mood piece than a three-act narrative with Friday-night commercial appeal. Lest teenagers go in expecting another “Paranormal Activity,” this decidedly demands full concentration even when all patience is lost. As an exercise in technique, it’s singular in its look and feel. That a first-time feature director like Kyle Edward Ball can create something purely on a feeling of vivid unease with a minimalist approach is still an achievement on its own.

As much as this criticism is a cop-out, “Skinamarink” worked more effectively in its original short form (when it was named “Heck”) than in this 100-minute feature. While rewatchability isn’t exactly justified, there is still an uncanny power here to the marriage of sound and image. It’s a little discovery that’s impossible to classify but really, really not for everyone and not all that rewarding. "Skinamarink" is the one movie that could both cause and cure insomnia.

Grade: C +

IFC Midnight and Shudder are releasing “Skinamarink” (100 min.) in theaters January 13, 2023 and on demand February 10, 2023.