Film Review: ‘Skinamarink’
by Ben Martin
The subgenre of found footage came back into vogue with Paranormal Activity (2007) and has remained popular to one degree or another ever since. In general, found footage flicks are a love-or-hate subgenre that has always been quite divisive. I’m very middle-of-the-road when it comes to the format, which is the most gimmicky of all the narrative/visual devices utilized to tell a story. When it comes to the horror genre, The Blair Witch Project (1999) is generally referred to as the first found footage horror movie by mass audiences. Genre fans know, however, that such credit belongs to Cannibal Holocaust (1980); a film that is by far the most polarizing of the subgenre. The second most divisive found footage movie in the horror community is the recently released Skinamarink — a true passion project for writer/director Kyle Edward Ball.
While the movie in review is Ball’s feature debut, he’s been producing his own brand of horror for a while via his YouTube channel, Bitesized Nightmares. Admittedly, I’m only vaguely familiar with it. Still, I appreciate the concept, which essentially adapts the nightmares sent in by their subscribers into videos using a very experimental and disconcerting aesthetic. It’s this same aesthetic approach that the writer/director has employed in all his projects thus far. One of which, Heck (2020), was a 28-minute proof of concept short film for Skinamarink. Along with Ball’s following on YouTube, Heck was enough to get a crowdfunding campaign off the ground, which raised $15,000 for the feature’s production budget. With his funding secured, Bell and his minimal cast-and-crew returned to the director’s childhood home in Edmonton, Canada, to bring his nightmare to life.
Skinamarink — the title of which is taken from the children’s song “Skiddy-Mer-Rink-A-Doo” — is as simple as it gets; so simplistic I would highly hesitate to call it a narrative. The film follows two young children left at home alone in the dead of night sometime in 1995. To make matters worse, 4-year-old Kevin (Lucas Paul) and his slightly older sister Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) discover that all the windows and doors in their house have disappeared! Now, the siblings must (apparently) wander around in the dark and whisper to find out what is happening to their parents.
One of the many significant aspects of the horror genre is that it can be entertaining even with only a minimal plot to support it. Hence, the slasher subgenre that reigned in the 1980s. The same can be said for found footage film. That said, a minimal plot with archetypal characters, at the very least, is a necessity. Otherwise, how else is the viewer supposed to connect on any level?
Sadly, even if I can give Skinamarink credit for having an exceptionally minimal plot, it features no real characters. You rarely see faces and need help to hear what little dialogue is uttered. Now, why would I care about children who have no personalities? Investing in these kids is equivalent to feeling I have a relationship with an inanimate object of no sentimental value. As a result, the movie is just a little scary. But I’ll give it this: it made me bored and frustrated. So at least it evoked something, which is more than I can say for many films.
Although, to call Skinamarink a “film” is a stretch. It’s more like a unique art installation. At best, it’s a very experimental short film that far overstayed its welcome as it clocks in at 100 minutes. I can applaud Ball and company’s success and appreciate the unique atmosphere they’ve created here. Unfortunately, though, that atmosphere wears thin after about fifteen minutes. Following that duration, it becomes ambient noise that could substitute for a dose of melatonin.
Skinamarink can currently be streamed Exclusively on Shudder.