Before going any further, let me acknowledge that this movie was, in all likelihood, never going to be my thing, so take everything I write next with caution and context. Skinamarink is the latest indie horror sensation and it’s easy to root for. It was made for a pittance, roughly $15,000, and filmed entirely in writer/director Kyle Edward Ball’s family home in Edmonton, Canada, and after being accidentally leaked online in its entirety in late 2022, the movie became a stalwart of TikTok and the talk of indie horror fans, enough so that it earned a nationwide theatrical release based upon its word-of-mouth buzz. This guy had an idea, shot it himself and for extremely little, and now horror fans across the country can gather and watch this man’s efforts. That’s commendable. Ball is living out a filmmaker’s dream, and I congratulate the man on being able to conceive a micro-horror concept that could connect with so many eager horror fans. I hope he rides this wave and is able to make even more movies while still holding to his creative terms. However, Skinamarink was too experimental an experience for me. It’s like having someone describe their nightmare for you in tedious, clinical detail when you’d really like to do anything else. I kept waiting and waiting for anything to materialize. I was just left waiting and bored.

This is less of a plot or character-driven movie and more one of those horror movies meant to exist on a subconscious dream logic parallel, tapping into something primal. The environment is very limited. We’re stuck inside a home at night for the entire duration of the movie, ostensibly following or adopting the perspectives of two children who wake up in the middle of the night. Something is wrong with their parents, and it sure sounds like there’s another more sinister presence in the home preying upon all of them. We hear noises coming from just out of reach. We see feet and heads but never the faces of people. An old TV continuously blares public domain cartoons that echo through the home. There are some Legos on the floor. Sometimes the doors and windows, and even a toilet, will disappear. Nobody tries to use a phone or leave the house. I was hoping over the 100 minutes that some grander design would reveal itself. Alas, if it did reveal itself, my patience had already been exhausted and so was my brain trying to make sense.

This kind of minimalist tone poem movie is just not for me. I was hopeful that eventually the different mysterious pieces might start forming a more cogent picture of what was happening, or even an understanding of the new rules within this enclosed nightmare universe, but it never materialized. Because nothing really adds up with Skinamarink you could have rearranged any scene without having a deleterious effect. There is no structure, no discovery, nothing to warrant this movie being 100 minutes when ten would have given the same artistic impression. It feels like one of those movies that someone else would watch in another movie that was cursed, a la The Ring. Imagine watching the strange imagery of The Ring cursed video but for two hours. Wouldn’t that grow tiresome? There were some moments that unnerved me, like a rare extended scene of dad imploring the child to look under the bed, and the occasional non-sequitur hushed morsel of dialogue that can creep you out (“That’s why I took her mouth away”). I feel like the entire movie is a giant ASMR experience and would be best watched alone, in the dead of night, and with headphones on for a fully immersive sound design. The movie’s lo-fi style applies to its soundtrack as well, which is constant with hisses and pops like an old record. It’s effective but, like everything else in the movie, becomes less effective or interesting upon its excessive repetition. 

I was reminded of Terrence Malick, another filmmaker whose artistic output doesn’t appeal to me. As I wrote for 2005’s The New World: “[Malick] doesn’t so much involve a plot as he does a large open space for his characters to pontificate about the world around them, mostly through whispery voice over. Malick fans will take in his artistic capture of sight and sound, but the rest of us out there will be scratching our heads, that is, when we’re not falling asleep. Seriously, how do you edit something like this? How does Malick know that THIS shot of a tree blowing in the wind needs to be slotted here, while this OTHER shot of a tree blowing in the wind needs to definitely come later? Malick is a stubborn mystery.” I kept thinking these exact same critical thoughts throughout Skinamarink: how does one even approach editing a movie like this? How do you put this shot of a door at minute 43 but reserve this other shot of a door for minute 56? Because the movie doesn’t build or alter its approach, it feels punishingly monotonous. We’re seeing the same rooms from the same angles, the same TV, the same Legos, and the occasional whisper or growl of dialogue. I guess the repetition could contribute to a growing sense of dread or an inability to escape, and for some I’m sure the movie had that effect. For me, I couldn’t connect on its liminal wavelength. 

I think the filmmaker was reasonably trying to recreate a relatable childish nightmare, waking up and sensing something is wrong, the adults cannot help you, or are missing themselves, and there’s no escape to be had as you try to wake up. The lo-fi inventiveness on a very limited budget is admirable, but for me, it would have been just as effective as a clips package. Actually, the entire movie is a glorified clips package, because one scene rarely if ever connects to the following scene, or one shot connecting to the next consecutive shot, so it feels like an endless fuzzy loop. I watched one of Ball’s videos on his YouTube channel, a resource that proved to be his inspiration for the movie, and it was a one-minute short labeled as a nightmare and it consisted of opening one door and pushing inside only to be met with another door, and then the whole thing repeats for a full minute. The point is easy enough to grasp, the futility and helplessness, and even at a minute in length, the video is pushing the bounds of its thin concept to a breaking point. I feel like Skinamarink is the same thing, a concept pushed beyond its breaking point without additional intrigue or substance. I congratulate Kyle Edward Ball and his minimal crew for making a shoestring budget horror hit. It’s just too experimental and lacking narrative traction and substance to be a hit with me. 

Nate’s Grade: C-

This review originally ran on Nate’s own review site Nathanzoebl. Check it out for hundreds of excellent reviews!

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