Four of the 10 people I watched “Skinamarink” with walked out. PR spin will label them as “fleeing in terror.” Untrue. I may have actually heard them rolling their eyes in the dark. I hated it too.
I try to avoid reviews or even buzz/chatter until after I have written about a film. I typically do that the day after I see it. This time, immediately after I got home, I couldn’t help myself. I got to Googling to see why so many people out there loved this purposefully obtuse, plot-free noise-fest. Ah! Apparently, the kids on their TikToks love it. It tickles their creepypasta, Reddit senses. But weirdly, so do older arthouse cinephiles…
That night, friends asked me how it was. I sent them a screenshot of two Letterboxd reviews: One that said the viewer would never sleep again. The other said “Why are you nerds crying it’s 100 minutes of looking at the corner of a ceiling.” I told my friends my reaction was somewhere between the two, probably closer to the nerd-hater.
Then a real weird thing happened.
Because I didn’t review it right away, the film sat with me. I sat with it. We sat with each other and ate PB&Js.
I don’t think it’s possible for me to like “Skinamarink.” I don’t. I won’t. Ever. But I think it’s good. Maybe even very good. Maybe even something legitimately special. This went from an F- reaction to a, well, you can see below.
I think it’s hilarious that this conclusion came to me slowly, that it crept in. Because writer/director Kyle Edward Ball’s movie is a lightyear beyond glacially paced. I don’t even think it has a pace. A pace would require stuff to happen. Nothing does. “Skinamarink” is understandably being billed as a horror film. What it really is, is extremely and intentionally upsetting abstract art.
For the first 30 minutes or so, it is just dark shots of doorframes, walls, corners, and a kid’s feet. It then progresses to upside-down doorframes, different walls, lots more corners, and a second child’s feet. Something bad is happening or has happened in this house. From the whispers, it likely involved a toddler stabbing his own eye out. But it could be child abuse. This whole thing could be a metaphor. It could also be a demonic possession, some purgatory-like afterlife, or hell. Whatever it is, it exists in a place where only some things get closed captioned despite none of the spoken dialogue being audible.
No story. No acting. Repetitive shots of places that need dusting. Why did I switch my stance? Understanding it as experimental film foremost excuses a lot of the flaws. My expectations were unfair. Ball’s actual work makes no apologies and no suggestions that it is anything but what it is: a nightmare told by a guy who finds “Slow TV” too brisk. The other big thing is that the desire I have to talk about this movie, to hear what others think about it, is almost pathological. I have to keep discussing it and reading about it. Even when we started lightly shitting on it during the drive home, we were strangely excited. We were intrigued if anyone else saw what we just saw. That is, other than the 40% of the audience who gave up on it.
Ball does some fascinating, clever things. The jump scares, of which there are few, are mostly produced by lulling you into a sort of trance, in the same way that people can fall asleep to reruns of “How Did This Get Made.” The hiss and pop “score” mimics almost a song-free record being played. The panning camera, showing floorboards and crevices, invites your mind to wander. You can’t help but remember the scary spots in places you grew up: the basements you’d avoid, the closets you never opened, the rooms you memorized the placement of the light switches. When you are jolted by an actual occurrence, it is like licking a car battery. I mean, I imagine it’s similar.
Like any “out there” art, it is extremely easy to crap on. Given weird things like on-screen text that pops up and says “572 days” without any explanation or context, it is extremely tempting to dismiss all of it as pretentious garbage. The reality is that I haven’t stopped discussing it or thinking about it. At the end of the day, that simply cannot be returned with anything but my respect.
I will absolutely never watch “Skinamarink” again. You should see it, though. And we should talk about it.
Grade = B+
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Meagan Navarro at Bloody Disgusting says “Ball’s painstaking recreation of a shared childhood nightmare through lo-fi ambiance on a minuscule budget is commendable. It seems best suited to watch in that half-awake delirious state in the late-night hours, home alone with the lights off.”
Stephanie Malone at Morbidly Beautiful says “It’s often oppressively quiet, but it’s the kind of silence imbued with so much sound. It’s all those small noises that rattle us, the sounds you think you hear and the ones you can’t be sure of.”
Felix Vasquez at Cinema Crazed says “No matter how you interpret it though, it’s a terrific, disturbing and uncomfortable horror entry, and one of the early gems of 2023.”