In thinking about reviewing Kyle Edward Ball’s debut feature Skinamarink, I realise this may be my Abe Simpson moment. In a famous moment, Abe described how what was now “it” seemed weird and scary to him. After being leaked, this film became a viral sensation on TikTok. People were describing it as the scariest film they had ever seen. Skinamarink has been given a wide release in the States and will soon be on Shudder. I, however, found the experience of watching it interminable – and this may mean what I am with is no longer “it”.
Kyle Edward Ball began with a YouTube channel where he filmed viewers’ nightmares. He then made the short film Heck, which was basically a proto version of this feature. Skinamarink follows two young children in a generic looking house in the 90s. They wake up and find all the doors in the house have disappeared. They decide to hide in the living room, in the glow of a CRT TV that is showing public domain cartoons. Spooky stuff happens, but I couldn’t tell you more if I wanted to. You barely ever see the characters. Skinamarink consists of static shots of objects, honestly. The whole film is swathed in an artificial grain and the sound was all added in post, adding to the dreamlike feel. This film is the epitome of “lo-fi”.
Skinamarink is very much part of the “analog horror” movement, epitomised by YouTube artists like PiroPito (my house walk-through). These videos are a modern example of hauntology, which, as the name suggests, lean into the inherent creepiness of the analog technology we grew up with. The occasional use of subtitles for inaudible dialogue is a feature of this movement.
I remind you that I am the girl who loved Broadcast Signal Intrusion. This seemed like my kind of film and had a recommendation from Jane Schoenbrun (We’re All Going To The World’s Fair). I dutifully planned a cinema trip when I heard the Prince Charles Cinema was showing it here in London. Understand, I wanted to like this film.
I often evoke the term “Lynchian” to describe a sense of the uncanny in cinema, where you cannot say what is scary but it’s unnerving. The surreal video tape in The Ring (Ringu) is also another fine example of unheimlich (and it’s worth noting the obvious influence of J-horror and the genres American remakes on this generation of “analog horror” filmmakers). This mode is very much the milieu the film is trying to play in.
There are positives. It creates an atmosphere. However, to me, the grain on the film just felt contrived. Sitting in a gorgeous cinema I couldn’t help but be reminded I was watching a digital film with the equivalent of an Instagram filter, and I couldn’t get past the artifice. There are several brilliant sequences. There are a few scares. One is actually brilliant but the others basically rely on flashes and loud noises.
Ultimately, however, I found Skinamarink annoying rather than endearing. It frankly gave me nothing. I felt like I spent a lot of time looking at a dark grainy screen. I can see why this blew up on TikTok, because as small video segments it works. It didn’t feel like a film to me. This would be amazing if it was an Instagram account, or if it was a series of mysterious videos uploaded as part of an ARG. As a 100-minute film, however, I found it painful. 14 people walked out of my packed screening, and as the film just continued going I wondered if this was some kind of cursed content, where random grainy shite would continue to appear on the screen as long as someone was looking at it.
I can already hear Film Twitter moaning at me. Look, I didn’t go in expecting something like M3GAN, the weekend’s other big horror release. I have loved slow-burn cinema like Lake Mungo, which others have dismissed as boring. I applaud the director for making a film with very little resources and getting such success. I appreciate this is the most abstract film I can think of to get such a wide release. It feels to me like they played an elaborate swindle, getting so much attention and success for 100 minutes of nothing. For this reason, unlike Seymour Skinner, I must acknowledge that perhaps it is I, and not the children, who is wrong.