A Surreal Nightmare of Forced Perspective: Skinamarink

One of my biggest pet peeves is pirating movies. Some people say it’s a victimless crime, others say there are bigger things to worry about. I get what points they are trying to make, but I still disagree with them. Even if you want to view a film that isn’t available for streaming, and you can’t find a physical release, I don’t condone pirating. Seeing all of these tweets, Facebook posts, and video commentaries on YouTube got me excited to think Skinamarink was available somewhere for streaming. I was wrong. What happened next was some of the most vitriolic and abhorrent toxic horror community moments I may have ever witnessed. Scream 5 wasn’t too far off.

A few certain film reviewers, whom I won’t call critics because that would imply I have a certain level of respect for them, had decided it would be a good idea to share their screener copies of Skinamarink with Twitter. When a few different film critics called those reviewers out, they were met with hate and personal attacks. I even made a few tweets about it and was told how closed-minded I am; that money should not be an obstacle when it comes to seeing a film. Again, this is an argument I can understand, but this film isn’t even released yet. I will never condone pirating a film, which is why I’m beyond thankful for Kyle Edward Ball when he provided me with a copy of Skinamarink for review. (I feel better after getting that off my chest, now let’s talk about this film.)

A child sits looking over their right shoulder in grainy blue hued film

Currently sitting at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, Skinamarink is the debut feature film from writer/director Kyle Edward Ball. There are a lot of films that I hold in high regard, but there are few films that I would describe as must-see films. Skinamarink is a must-see film. Describing a film like this is an exercise in futility. This film is a surreal nightmare of forced perspective—a gut punch of pure unadulterated madness.

To start, I think it’s necessary to look at the direction style, which means we have to take a detour to July 16, 2015, which marked the inception of Kyle’s YouTube page Bitesized Nightmares. This channel predates the influx of “backrooms” horror of current. What seemed like a channel dedicated to creepy and very authentic horror, now shows more as a proof of concept that went way over our heads. I highly recommend checking his page out, as there is more than enough content to give you a sleepless night. The one short from about two years ago, Heck, feels like a spiritual prequel to Skinamarink, as well as an explicit proof of concept (that’s the last time I’ll use that phrase).

Skinamarink is unlike anything I have ever seen. Kyle’s use of forced perspective reminds me a lot of Alfred Hitchcock, in many ways. Hitchcock once said, regarding suspense, “the more left to the imagination, the more the excitement.” Each shot is framed as if it were a four-year-old holding the camera, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s easy for us to put ourselves in the shoes of these two kids with the images on the screen. We see the top of a door frame or an off-centered TV. The cinematography and direction do such a brilliant job of creating the off-beat horror that makes this film feel beyond the original.

What is this film even about? Skinamarink follows two children who wake up in the middle of the night to find their father missing, their mother acting strange, and the windows and doors to the house are missing. Oh, and something is coming after them. Plot-wise, there isn’t much to go for, but that’s not the point of this film. This film acts as an emotionally nostalgic horror film. Remember those times when you were a kid when you would fall asleep on the couch and then wake up in your bed? Well imagine that, but you don’t wake up in your bed. You have awoken in this minimalist backrooms-esque hellscape that has no escape. The people you look to for life and guidance have disappeared. Hell, the cops can’t even get to you.

A dark grainy image with only a slight door frame visible, with the subtitle "come upstairs"

I would be lying if I said this film is easy to get through because it’s not. It is an intense slow burn of epic proportions. I’ve never viewed something and felt cursed afterward, but after watching Skinamarink I was half expecting a call from Samara telling me I had seven days.

One of the most impressive aspects of this film is how you are forced to feel so much about characters you don’t even know. There is little to no character development. On paper, this film should not work. Nothing about this film should work. It just does. The unnerving atmosphere, the film grain, and the severe lack of dialogue. Everything builds incredible tension to the extreme. I don’t know how anyone could watch this film and not be affected.

Going back to what I said earlier a la the Hitchcock quote, there is an impressive use of shadows. Now, it’s easy to throw some shadows in a hallway and have the audience think there is something down there. But Kyle Edward Ball nearly gaslights us, in the best way possible, into forming the ghosts in our heads. The overuse of film grain works negatively on the audience. It looks almost as if there are maggots crawling on the screen. When this film was over my eyes needed to adjust to normal light, and the reddish hue of the film grain was still stuck in my vision. There is this effect the film grain has, where, as you look down this dark empty hallway, the film grain makes YOU see things. You will see things that aren’t there. You form the horror in your head; to me that is the mark of a five star film.

A TV sits off center, in a blue hue, the light from the TV illuminates children's toys on the ground

I’ve watched an uncountable amount of horror films. From Cosmotropia de Xam to Mark Polonia to James Wan, my viewings have run the gambit, but I can confidently say Skinamarink is the greatest horror film I have ever seen. That may sound hyperbolic, but it is truly how I walked away from this film feeling. Even six days later and a trip to the ER, I have not been able to get this film out of my head. To say this film is a masterclass in horror is a disservice to the word masterclass. Kyle Edward Ball has truly created something extraordinarily macabre with Skinamarink, and we are all lucky this film exists.

Variety has reported Skinamarink will be getting a theatrical run on January 13, 2023 through IFC Midnight, and has also reported that it has been acquired by Shudder for streaming release at some point in 2023. Will you be brave enough to enter this house of horrors?

One Comment

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  1. I don’t see that this experimental film as a masterclass at all. It is not even a film. It makes no sense, has no plot. Just when I thought something was about to happen or I was gonna find the films true meaning the filmmaker went another direction. I need my films to be somewhat meaningful with some sort of direction. I get what your saying about kids perspective and that its an exercise in something, what I don’t know but something. I thought it was dealing with children left alone with parents being dead, killed, or committed suicide even but it didn’t seem that way at all either. Sorry but I can’t recommend this film to anyone, not film buffs like myself or definitely not to regular moviegoers either. Frankly its not a film and I think the filmmaker has a Lot to learn about the process and definitely about storytelling. How can this film stay with anyone for days when there is no substance here, no puzzle to decipher like a David Lynch film, no real scares like a true horror film and definitely no suspense like Hitchcock would create.

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Written by Brendan Jesus

I am an award-winning horror screenwriter, rotting away in New Jersey.

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