Welcome to Knockout Horror and to another Horror Review. Boy has this movie ever been seeing some crazy hype? Shudder original Skinamarink is, what you may describe as, an experimental horror movie. Created by YouTuber Kyle Edward Ball. This is a movie that is pushing reviewer hyperbole to levels not seen since The Blair Witch Project. “Skinamarink will make you scared of the dark again!“. “One of the scariest movies of all time“. And other wild statements have been echoed by major platforms. It’s rather confounding.
As with many things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. This is a movie that is absolutely not for everyone. Some reviewers are taking liberties with this fact. I see people aiming subtle jabs at viewers. Throwing thinly veiled shade at people with shorter attention spans is common. “This is a movie for people with patience“. “Only true horror fans need apply“. And other elitist bullshit. This is a movie that is slow, bizarrely presented and asks a lot of the viewer. It’s near two hour runtime can be both a chore and a delight.
Something that really should have been a short movie. Is now being worn as a feather in the cap for the self proclaimed “pure horror fan”. The reality is that just as many will hate this film as love it. It will divide relentlessly. What I hope to do with this review is provide a moderate opinion. There’s parts of this movie that I love and parts I hate. I think a little sand needs to be thrown on the Skinamarink fire. Not too much, though. Let’s take a look.
We put out a couple of Horror Movie Ending Explained articles each week. In these articles, we take a look at certain movies and explain the ending. It’s pretty straightforward really. Many of these films may have obvious endings with a few questions left unanswered. Others will be ridiculously confusing. We approach them all the same and try to clear things up.
Skinamarink is a confusing movie designed to be open to viewer interpretation. The events are vague, as is the ending. We attempt to explain what happened. Or, at least in this case, give our interpretation of events. Why not see what we think in our Skinamarink Ending Explained article? Keep in mind if you haven’t watched the movie yet. The article does contain spoilers, unlike this review.
As someone with bipolar disorder who has a fiancee with ADHD. I have gone into some of the issues other attention disorder sufferers may face with this movie. Whereas, I always try to do this with reviews. I think I will be putting a stronger focus on this in future. This is something other review sites seem to neglect. They are too quick to point out viewer attention spans in a negative way. Not taking on board certain disorders and how they impact movie enjoyment. If I think fellow sufferers may have similar struggles to my partner or me. I will point them out. Obviously attention issues aren’t present with all types of bipolar disorder. I do suffer with them much of the time, though.
Skinamarink is a movie that demands a lot of concentration. It does very little to aid the easily distracted. Your mind is likely to wander many times during the movie. There is a fair chance this will lead to a bit of exhaustion. Static shots offer little to keep you engaged. The camera work does nothing to help guide your focus. There are moments of redundancy offering the perfect opportunity to mentally check out. The repeating image dirt filter is distracting and the story is minimal. You may find this movie something of a chore and tough to get through. If this is your experience with Skinamarink. Don’t beat yourself up. There are some fantastic horror moments worth sticking with the movie to experience. If you struggle, however, maybe watch in a few sittings.
Skinamarink’s premise is rather simple. Two children wake up in the middle of the night. Their parents have, seemingly, disappeared. They begin to notice that other things from their house are disappearing too. Windows, doors, the toilet. As time goes on, things become increasingly more bizarre. The children’s parents reappear but seem strange. Objects appear on the ceilings. The landline phone won’t dial out. A strange voice talks to the children. What could be causing the strange occurrences?
That is the basic outline of the story. It’s nothing particularly new or even that interesting. What sets Skinamarink apart from other movies is its presentation. Have you ever wondered what would happen if David Lynch directed a silent horror movie? The result would look a lot like this. The style is incredibly abstract. It is, also, sure to be as divisive as it is unique. Some will find this a difficult movie to watch. It demands patience and an ability to tolerate inferior cinematic presentation.
Heavy dirt filters are used on top of a grainy, poorly lit, image. The result is a picture that often looks as confused as it does imposing. Completely unique in this modern era of horror. Skinamarink stands out for its risk taking as much as anything else. For every flickering patch of black. Hinting at the creatures dancing in the darkness beyond. There is a frustrating, contextless, shot of the top of a door, lingering for an eternity. A feeling that scenes go nowhere and add nothing is inescapable. There is a distinct sense that much of the scene building. Is actually scene padding in disguise.
This speaks to the bigger issue with Skinamarink. This is a movie that succeeds or fails based on its commitment to its stylistic trappings. People will love it for what it is. Others will simply dislike the presentation. These people will not give it the attention it deserves, which is a shame. This is a movie that absolutely deserves attention.
Skinamarink is an experience unlike any other in horror. Perhaps never before has a movie so perfectly captured the vagueness of our dreams. The uncanniness of the non-waking world has never felt so well formed. From the bizarre, almost nonsensical, camera angles. To the disconnected manner of the character’s speech. This film is unnerving and tremendously unsettling. We have all been to this place before. We all recognise it. Ball deserves immense praise. His ability to bring to life something we usually only feel while deep asleep is unrivalled. In recent horror, at least.
There is an uncomfortable fact here. Skinamarink takes liberties with the viewer’s time and patience. For the things it does right. There is an overwhelming feeling that this movie is, simply, far too long. Rarely, in a horror movie, have I felt so strongly that a story should have been a 20 minute short.
I get it, this movie could be described, aptly, as Slow Cinema. Slow cinema is a style that deliberately aims to feature little in the way of narrative. There is a strong focus on aesthetic. Long, drawn out shots are key. The movie is supposed to drag you into the environment and let you linger there. I really think Skinamarink suffers for its laboured presentation, though. If this was a 20 minute short movie, it may have been one of my favourites of all time. If this was part of an anthology horror. Other directors would be green with envy. It would have been breath taking. As it stands, the novelty of the presentation wears off after some time.
What initially seems haunting and unsettling becomes normal and routine. Viewers with a lesser attention span will find their eyes wandering. Even those with enviable levels of patience may find themselves begging for a point of focus. It can be a chore, especially when scenes add little to the atmosphere. I would even go as far as to say many scenes detract from the overall tension. The genuinely unsettling moments of pure horror total less than ten minutes. The rest of the time feels empty and rather pointless. This is a painful fact. Those ten minutes are some of the most effective in horror history.
Spending time watching cartoons and playing with Lego make sense. Given the context, of course. The children chat quietly with each other. They lie on the floor drawing. They wander around the house. It is all fairly menial stuff. It is impossible to ignore how empty these scenes feel, though. Is it to help establish the characters as vulnerable children? That seems fairly needless. We are already bought into the vulnerability of the characters. They are clearly very young children whose parents have mysteriously vanished. We don’t need help to empathise with them.
The result is around 60% of the movie feeling like it didn’t need to exist. The deeper issue with this level of dead air is how it exposes the presentation. It’s quite easy to become tired of the deliberately abstract camera angles. The flickering darkness will strain your eyes. You become desperate to see even a hint of a person. The impact on the dream like state of the movie also bears mention. I have never had a dream that felt this long. This is a concept that doesn’t hold up to quite this much stretching.
Despite the above complaints. I would absolutely say that it is worth sticking with. There are scenes in Skinamarink that will make your blood run cold. Genuinely unsettling and sure to be remembered among the most effective of all time. Taking nods from movies such as the aforementioned Blair Witch Project. Skinamarink does a lot with a little. Ball completely understands the terror that comes in apprehension. He perfectly condenses the fear that exists in the moments leading up to a moment. The resulting slow release creates a palpable level of tension.
The simple uttering of the words “Look under the bed” are worth more than a million jump scares. Chilling, terrifying and inciting feelings of fight or flight. This is powerfully effective horror that will stay with you. It also feels completely unique. Placing the viewer into the shoes of a child is an inspired move. The almost first person perspective of the movie invites a specific kind of fear. A fear we all know too well. That feeling of being a child lost in a dream like world. The character’s lack of understanding is easy to appreciate. You will likely share in it and feel it too.
As the movie draws to a close. You will still have no clear understanding of what you just witnessed. Just like when you were a child. You never actually knew what caused those creaks in the hallway, did you? You were too afraid to go and find out. Skinamarink takes you right back to that childhood type of fear. A type of fear that doesn’t attempt to rationalise. It just reacts. Awesome, inspiring, stuff and extremely powerful. If the movie was 25 minutes long. It would be 25 of the most unsettling minutes in horror history.
As far as the technical side of things go, there are a few issues. There is a frustrating devotion to a 2.39:1 aspect ratio that feels out of place. In my opinion, this should have been shot in 4:3. Filming on 35mm camera would have been out of the question. Given the budgetary constraints and what not. The widescreen aspect doesn’t fit the overall style, though. There is a dirt filter placed over the image to give the impression this was made on film. The filter repeats frequently and is very obvious. Viewers with attention issues will have fun here. ADHD and Bipolar people, hands up! My fiancée pointed out a specific point that kept repeating. I think we both spent the rest of the film religiously focusing on that bit. It looks a little awkward and a bit cheap.
The graininess of the image is both a plus and a negative. Certain shots are so dark that, coupled with the grain, they almost dance. It is like some unearthly entity hides in plain sight. Indeed, something does hide in some of these shots. It is effective but also uncomfortable on the eyes. In all honesty, it could be said that the entire movie is somewhat difficult on the eyes. As mentioned above, if you have attention issues. You are going to find it difficult to concentrate. Things that are, often, typical of movies don’t exist here. Camera pans to guide your focus are absent. Static shots are king and they punish the easily distracted. Expect to have to dial your focus back in on numerous occasions.
As mentioned above. Pacing is my biggest issue with Skinamarink. I think it should have been a short. The initial moments of the movie are difficult to engage in. Things pick up a little before sagging for quite awhile. An interesting middle is followed by more laboured scene stretching. You will welcome the end with open arms due to the redundancy of much of the film. This would have been one of the best horror shorts of all time. As it stands, it suffers for its runtime and pacing.
That doesn’t mean this is a bad movie. Quite the opposite. I think Skinamarink does so many things right. It is powerful and deeply impactful. Some of the scares are among the most memorable in recent horror history. I just can’t sit here writing this and tell you that the film is perfect. This movie will divide people right down the middle. For those of us who struggle through the pacing issues. There is still plenty to enjoy. Fans of abstract horror will love overdosing on the 100 minutes of strange presentation. Other people will not make it past the first ten minutes. Wherever you stand, that is fine. Skinamarink’s glowing praise requires a footnote. It is not for everyone. Whether you are a fan of slow burn horror or not.
Skinamarink is a tough movie to review. It is a slave to its presentation. A presentation that is sure to divide people. Even people that enjoy the bizarre, David Lynch-esque, trappings of the film may struggle. This is a short movie stretched to a 100 minute runtime. The result is a bunch of redundancy and scenes that feel unnecessary. The abstract camera angles and lack of points of interest only compounds these issues.
Still, buried in the strange presentation and overly long rutime is a true horror gem. This is a movie with some legitimately memorable moments. Ball has managed to capture the dream like feeling of uncanniness in a way few others have. A few honestly chilling scenes will stay with you long after the film ends. There is nothing else that looks or feels quite like Skinamarink. For that, it deserves praise. As a 20 minute short, it would have been one of the best horror experiences of recent history. As it stands, it is a fine movie that will divide people.