Dir. Kyle Edward Ball (2022)
Two children find themselves home alone when their parents disappear, along with all the doors and windows in their house.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
One of the scariest moments of my childhood was the time I awoke from a deep sleep and saw a witch staring at me from my bedroom doorway. Of course, it wasn’t actually a witch: there was no pointy hat, no beady eyes, no long crooked nose. In retrospect, it was likely one of my parents passing by, illuminated briefly by the hall light that I religiously asked to be left on every single night. The witch was in my mind all along, my imagination the culprit of something that terrified me for years. That’s what made it so scary, the realization that, even in my room, the singular place in all of the world of which I was most familiar, I could still be scared. There could still be mystery, there could still be things that I didn’t recognize, despite knowing every dark corner of the room like the back of my hand. That feeling of “offness,” that something is just wrong with a room that you’ve seen a million times before, is our brain’s desperate attempt to process information, filling in the blanks that it knows that it can recreate from memory. It also knows that there is a possibility, however remote it may be, that this time it will be different.
It is this feeling that Skinamarink devotes itself to exploring. It’s a film I’ve been dying to see since I heard about it making the festival tour, finally coming to Shudder to kick off February, and I made sure to watch it with a quickness. What I found was a subliminal celebration of madness, a nightmare-within-a-nightmare that beckoned childhood fears and awakened a few new ones as well. Writer/director Kyle Edward Ball does his level best to challenge his audience with an avant garde film that will either bore you to tears or make you terrified to close your eyes, and there won’t be a whole lot of experiences that fall anywhere in between. There are very few outwardly scary moments, with most of the terror being created within, and wholly contained by, our own imagination. That is, after all, where things are the scariest.
The unease that Skinamarink projects is awe-inspiring. I’ve never seen a movie that made me feel the way that this one did, outside of some of David Lynch’s short films perhaps. As each minute elapsed, I kept expecting something to jump out from the darkness, and to be fair there were a couple of jumpscares that were a bit out of place despite being incredibly effective. It’s difficult to describe what exactly is terrifying about this film, to the point that so many people who have watched the film didn’t find anything at all within the film to be scary. It’s not your typical horror movie, and it’s not one that’s going to impress too many mainstream horror fans, simply due to the experimental nature of the film. But when we get to the end of the film, and find that these children have been trapped alone in this nightmare world for 572 days, the true horror of what these kids are going through truly sets in. Imagine actually being in that situation, if you can, and how utterly horrifying it would actually be to be alone, without your parents, trapped in the safest place you know and having it feel entirely unsafe.
Kudos to Ball for not scaring the bejeezus out of us any of the million chances that he had. Masterclass in tension? Nah, this was a masterclass in restraint, because I would’ve jumped straight the fuck out of my skin if there was anything under the bed… or in the hallway… or peering at me through the darkness that was ever-present throughout the film. In order to make the film work, though, it’s about building that terror that never completely pays off. I’ve long said that it isn’t the dark that you’re afraid of, but rather what may be lurking in that very darkness. Ball shows us that, no, that’s not necessarily the case, because the darkness itself manifests its own self-contained terror. If we never find out what is actually in the dark, it leaves open the possibility that it could be the worst thing we can imagine. Or possibly something worse.
Who this movie is for: Arthouse horror fans, Avant garde cinema lovers, Minimalists
Bottom line: This is the most divisive movie of the year, and its one that so many people are going to absolutely hate that it’s going to make the Halloween Ends backlash look like child’s play (no pun intended.) The only reason your feed won’t be flooded with opinions about this movie is because it’s not wide release, though hopefully its inclusion on Shudder’s February lineup will help change that. But holy cow, for those that love the film, this one is going down as an all-time classic. If liminal spaces and the feeling that reality itself has become rancid terrifies you, this is a film that will scare both legs of your pants off.