When I was a child, we lived in an old house at the end of a long dead-end dirt road. Once, when I was maybe eight years old, I must have done some sleepwalking, because I woke up, middle of the night, looking into the mailbox. Now this mailbox wasn’t attached to the house, or even at the end of the driveway as with most normal houses. It was a ways up the road and there were no streetlights. It was scary as hell to suddenly wake up there, wondering why, or what I was looking for. It was also pretty damn scary thinking about the fact that I had gotten up and left the house, venturing into the cold and the dark, undetected, without any rhyme or reason.

That’s kinda what it’s like to watch SKINAMARINK, the new indie horror sensation that has somehow made its way into theaters.

Let me tell you right now the same thing every reviewer has said about this film: it’s not for everyone. Honestly, I’m not even sure it’s for me. When I say that it’s experimental, you might think I’m talking about a few weird camera angles or a tricky narrative, but that’s not even close.

It was written and filmed by Kyle Edward Ball, a kind of lonely auteur who’s got a channel on YouTube called Bitesized Nightmares. On his channel, viewers would tell him about nightmares they had and he would make short and often disturbing films about them. Some of them are really disturbing, all of them are shrouded in more questions than answers. A couple years ago, he made a slightly longer piece called HECK, which was essentially about a child waking up to find his mother’s television blaring while she’s nowhere to be found. For most of the thirty-minute duration of the film, we wait with him in the dark house for his mother’s return.

Okay, now take that concept, but it’s two children, Kevin and Kaylee, who wake up to find their father gone, and the doors and windows have all vanished from the house. We hear them talking, sometimes, but we never directly see them. Like, at all. Yeah, there are shots of feet running through the living room, down hallways, and a few rare glimpses of one or the other of them from behind or from the side. We see even less of the two adults when they finally, possibly, appear on screen.

You get shots of the ceiling, the tops of doorways, the floor. Everything is purposely grainy, both visually and aurally. There are dark, empty spaces everywhere, which your mind starts to fill in by itself. It’s like some of the analog horror that used to appear more regularly on the internet or a Creepypasta expanded to feature film length. That little bit of plot summary, about the kids waking up and their father is gone, that’s pretty much all you get.

Sitting in a darkened theater, only fifteen minutes into its hundred-minute length, I thought, “Wow, a lotta folks are REALLY gonna hate this movie.” I’m not sure most film geeks are even going to appreciate it. General audiences have laughed at it. They have said it wasn’t scary, said it was pretentious, or even trash. Even those who have liked it have walked out asking, what the fuck did I just see?

Just like those who are proclaiming it a new vision of horror, even a masterpiece, the haters are all correct. It’s kinda all of these things.

This is not a horror movie. It’s a cheaply-shot experimental film that evokes horror, and somehow it made it into theaters that are also showing the new AVATAR flick. Hell, if nothing else, that made me want to see it.

And I’m glad I saw it, but . . .

Wow, I don’t even know where to go with my evaluation of this. I could warn you about spoilers, but there’s really nothing I can spoil. There’s really nothing I can explain. Much of what you get out of SKINAMARINK depends on what your own mind brings into it.

There are deeper meanings to everything, no doubt. The house that it was filmed in was Ball’s childhood home. Many of the toys that end up scattered all over the floor as the kids try to amuse themselves belonged to him. You could see it as a kind of nightmarish recollection of child abuse. You could see it as Kevin’s mind in the midst of a coma from the fall he’s supposedly taken. You could see it as there really being an evil presence in the house, as in not just a figurative but a literal demon.

Really . . . it could be anything. And that’s gonna piss a lotta folks off. Or it’s just going to leave them falling asleep in the theater (or on the couch when it arrives on Shudder later this month). Honestly, I nodded off a couple times, just for a minute or two, and I was really into it.

There are a few jump scares, but they aren’t of the traditional variety. It’s more like the kind of images, the kind of dreamlike unease, that slips up on you later, hours or even days after you’ve seen the movie. That’s what it did to me, and why I’m probably gonna have to talk about it again, even after this halfass review. If this gets to you at all, it’s gonna REALLY get to you. Meanwhile, now I’m having all these dreams about waking up and staring into an empty mailbox in the middle of the night. Damn you, SKINAMARINK.

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