When I was a child, I vividly recall bedtime consisting of goodnights to my mom and dad, a cautious walk down our house’s long, dark hallway, flipping off my bedroom light switch, and booking it toward my bed, leaping into it with enough height and speed that whatever evil was lurking beneath it wouldn’t be able to grab me and pull me under. Then came the imagining of sounds and faces in the darkness of my house as it settled in for the night. (I was a very imaginative child.) The latest micro-budgeted ($15,000) indie film to go viral, SKINAMARINK, successfully recreates these senses of confusion, powerlessness, unclarity, and fear. However, it also successfully bores its audience into submission with very little traditional payoff.
I did not like this movie.
I can not stop thinking about this movie.
I highly recommend this movie.
I saw SKINAMARINK (from writer/director Kyle Edward Ball, inspired by his short film, HECK, and filmed in his own childhood home) at a showing at the IFC Film Center in NYC’s West Village. The crowd on this Friday, the 13th, was full of obvious horror fans…not just your run-of-the-mill “I saw the latest Blumhouse” horror fans, but those of us who live and breathe the genre. We sat in anticipation, donning our most obscure, pretentious, and deep-cut horror movie t-shirts, anxiously awaiting what had promised to be a one-of-a-kind horror experience. The film was introduced by a well-known film critic representing a well-known horror publication (that will remain nameless) who proceeded to spend the next 15 minutes telling us what her interpretation of the tone of the film is, spoiling some major moments and setting our expectations to unfair levels. She ruined the film for the entire audience just moments before it began. Then she left—she wasn’t even going to sit through the movie with us. I share this story because this is not a movie that you should allow anyone to describe to you. Don’t even read a plot synopsis. I give you full permission to watch the trailer, but know that, honestly, the trailer was more interesting than most of the film itself.
Rather than attempt to explain the purposely-thin plot, I’ll explain where the film succeeds and fails. The childhood memories of its target audience’s age bracket are perfectly captured through utter imperfection. The film is an hour and forty minutes of grainy lo-fi camera resolution, creepy noises, and a frustrating level of nothing happening. Its intention is not to tell a clear story with a narrative plot but instead to instill a reaction and evoke an emotional response, both of which it achieves to great effect. The movie really is as scary as people are saying. It really is effective at recreating sense-memory sensations from very early childhood. It thrives on the millennial obsession with nostalgia but subverts that enthusiasm, instead reminding us of the darkest fears from our childhood homes. It is ASMR for horror film snobs. It is disorienting and frustrating by design. It is not a movie you are supposed to enjoy or even like. For these reasons, I commend the film and actually do highly recommend it…to the right kind of moviegoer.
However, at an audacious length of one hundred minutes where almost nothing actually happens, it is asking a lot from its audience. It’s a rare case where the movie is best viewed at home. Turn off the lights, put your phone in another room, make a blanket fort, and watch this movie by yourself with no paratheatrical distractions and no well-known film critic representing a well-known horror publication (that will remain nameless) telling you how you should feel about the movie and spoiling it for you. This movie promises to be a very different experience for everyone who watches it—it doesn’t matter what anyone else has to say about it. The film, whether you love it or hate it, evokes dread, fear, and helplessness in a way I’ve never experienced outside of reality. Call it pretentious, self-indulgent, or an exercise in style over substance; it’s a unique and successful experiment in what horror cinema is capable of.
Last night after turning out the lights and walking down the long, dark hallway in my apartment to my bedroom, I had the same primal impulse from my childhood to turn off the light and leap into my bed before it was too late. For that reason, I celebrate and recommend this movie.
SKINAMARINK is available in limited theaters and will be streaming on SHUDDER in the very near future. Wait to watch it at home. Alone. In the dark.