Fear is not often a universal experience. While one person can feel the skin peeling back from their body when they even see the visage of a clown, another may want nothing more than to hug it. Each person can have a very different reaction to something that could be your phobia. But there is a fear that most people share. It’s a fear of the unknown but not in the sense of you’re afraid of dying. It’s the fear you feel in your childhood about the world you don’t yet understand. It’s the bump in the night that you jump to assume is a monster in your closet because, to you, monsters do exist. Skinamarink is much less a movie but an experience that preys upon that primal fear.
The story follows two children who wake up in the dead of night only to find out that their father has vanished and so has any exit to the house.
That’s the entire synopsis of Skinamarink which may be confusing when you find out that the film has a 1 hour and 40 minute run time which consists mainly of darkness and some truly wild POV shots. Why I think the film is worth seeing is that the director Kyle Edward Ball does so much with so little. There are four actors in the film with the majority of the film only being the two children. What drives the horror of the film isn’t the actors, it’s the camera.
We know that the only people in the house are the two children so many of the shots are shot from the floor up to the corners or tops of door frames while the actors call out “Hello?” from time to time or ask the other for help. The horror preys upon the fear that you too were once that child late at night walking through the halls of your home. You would look up at the doors and things around as you made your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night or to your parent’s bedroom. Many kids were even afraid that something was going to pop out from around the corner and get them. But at the end of that hallway or behind one of those doors was your guardian waiting for you. But in Skinamarink, they aren’t there. The camera is pointing you at the fears and angles that you have not felt since you were that small like the children in the film. Your own fears drive how you feel about each sequence of the film.
In a way, it reminded me of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You may be saying to yourself “bit of a stretch there, buddy” but think about what drives home the horror in TCM. When Leatherface is about to put a victim on a meat hook, the camera turns away. The fear is propelled by the absence of it. Skinamarink uses that similar tactic in that the absence of some special effects monster chasing the children around the house, you are afraid of what could be out there in the darkness. We only get the heavy breaths and whispers of what could be in the house. It’s driven by the fear that children fear about the uncertainty of the world around them. Their minds fill in the darkness of the world around them.
There are many ways to read the film. You could read it as it all being a projection of the children’s trauma over a divorce, abuse, or anything they don’t understand fully. All of these fears are amplified as children have to deal with them. But most of them return to childhood. Even when the film is read as is on the screen, it’s two children dealing with a demon or entity.
Now as much as I enjoyed Skinamarink, I cannot recommend it to everyone. I am not sure how much enjoyment people who don’t like something more experimental or art house will gain from it. I watched it on my computer the first time but then I was able to experience it in a local theatre. It’s a film that asks for your total attention for the full film which should also be done in the darkest room you can find. I think the experience in the theatre was better for me but at the same time, I watched 6 people leave the theatre. You have to buy into knowing there aren’t going to be monsters chasing people or some big revelations. It’s not that kind of film. But I do implore you that if you’ve made it this far into my review, you rent it or watch this on Shudder. It’s something I think people should watch at least once if they’ve enjoyed any type of horror film.
Many fears are not universal but those childhood fears seem to be. Everyone at one point was afraid of something in the dark when you weren’t tall enough to see over most ledges. Skinamarink is a horror experience that will bring those fears back to your chest as if you were once again 4 and calling out for your guardian to come check for the monster in the darkness.