Who’s Afraid of ‘Skinamarink’?

Slow-moving, experimental horror film is like ‘The Blair Witch Project’ crossed with David Lynch’s ‘Inland Empire’

Roughly five to ten minutes into Skinamarink, you hear a father on the phone explaining that his son bumped his head falling down the stairs. But he’s fine. Everything is going to be okay. As it turns out, everything is not going to be okay.

Writer-director Kyle Edward Ball crowd-sourced stories of people’s childhood nightmares and found that many of them were the same. They were in a house alone. Their parents were missing. There was a monster in the house. And so it goes with Skinamarink, which makes the movie sound way more accessible than it will be for most audiences. It’s important to know that it’s a very, very, very slow movie. Skinamarink and Blair Witch Project are bound to draw comparisons. They’re both ultra-low budget and can be described as experimental.

But Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity – another film that will draw inevitable comparisons to Skinamarink – are more narratively conventional. For long periods during Skinamarink, the audience sees shots of grainy darkness suddenly interrupted by the top corner of a doorframe opening, a nightlight replugged into its socket, or a cordless phone charger while hearing the slow beeping of its buttons. And when I say long periods, I mean minutes at a time. The screening I attended was so quiet that the woman next to me kept taking one piece of popcorn at a time and sucking on it like a lozenge. She seemed nice.

As far as the set-up, it’s 1995 and we’re in a house with four-year-old Kevin and his six-year-old sister Kaylee. Most of what we see is supposedly through their eyes. After a sleepwalking incident, Kevin and Kaylee awake in the middle of the night to find their parents missing. They decide to sleep downstairs, comforting themselves with legitimately disturbing old cartoons. (If you have the chance to see this at an Alamo Drafthouse, the cartoons are part of the pre-show.) They start to hear noises and something that’s not their parents might be talking to them. Toilets and windows disappear, chairs and toys start to appear on ceilings, and everything begins to feel a bit like a nightmare oozing its way out of a dark walk on little feet through a spooky house. To tell more would give away the eventual reveals and viewers have to wait what feels like a long, long time for those.

Skinamarink is difficult to review because people who will like it will really, really love it. For many conventional moviegoers, it’s definitely not going to push the same buttons as something like Smile or Scream. It’s Blair Witch Project for people who are into David Lynch’s Inland Empire or Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Which is not to say that one needs to have seen or enjoyed either of those films to get Skinamarink. You just need to be well-caffeinated and patient. Ball sets out what he means to do by putting the audience in the eyes of scared children afraid to move quickly through darkness. The wonky angles, grainy filmstock, and incredibly effective use of sound all work to take the audience there. But like many nightmares, it sometimes feels like it’s been going on forever.

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Jonpaul Henry Guinn

Jonpaul Henry Guinn is a freelance writer, Jeopardy also-ran, pub quiz host, and U.S. army veteran. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he oversees staffing and training for Geeks Who Drink.

2 thoughts on “Who’s Afraid of ‘Skinamarink’?

  • January 18, 2023 at 1:21 pm

    I was at the screening in Edmonton AB with the Q/A afterwards with the director and cast.

    as someone who was a major fan of movies like Paranormal Activity (first one) and Blair Witch.

    This movie in my opinion just kinda dragged out. i do appreciate the atmosphere in which this movie gave us, definitely brought me back to that young age of when you are scared and creating images in your head while looking in the dark. just wished there was a little more dialog or direction where this was suppose to go or give a little idea what is going on.

    but some of the imagery was definitely creepy and uneasy to look at for extended times waiting for something to happen. but when the little jump scares happened the theatre did jump, which was fun.

    would i watch it again? maybe. but have to watch it in the dark and without distraction.

    but love that a local film maker from my hometown is making waves in my favorite genre

    • January 21, 2023 at 10:24 am

      The reaction was all over the place at the sold out screening – most of the weekend’s screenings were sold out or near sold out – that I attended. A guy in front of a friend of mine said, “We are never watching that s#$% again.”

      I think I’m about where you are with it. It’s nice to see big swings, but it wasn’t my particular cup of tea.


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