When Kyle Edward Ball’s indie horror film Skinamarink hit theaters in late 2022, it already had a fan following. The buzz stemmed largely from its pirated release. Before long, there were dozens of Reddit threads devoted to this movie. But for all the hype, Skinamarink remains controversial. Is it a really a frightening movie, or simply a stylistically impressive snooze fest?
To answer the question, it’s important to understand that this isn’t your average horror movie. Unlike fast-paced thrillers, Skinamarink is the slowest of all burns. The plot couldn’t be more basic. Two children find themselves alone in their house and unable to escape. However, while the movie lacks complex storytelling, it makes up for with its nightmarish atmosphere. Unlike other found footage films, Skinamarink feels like it was filmed by a child holding an old-fashioned VHS camcorder. Off-kilter camera angles give viewers shots of toys scattered across the floors, a television playing an endless stream of old cartoons, and the ceiling. Sometimes, it’s not even clear what the focus of the shot is.
Cinematographically speaking, the movie’s a mess. Yet, this bewildering patchwork of images haunts its viewers like nightmare by turning the ordinary into the surreal. A shot of Legos on the floor isn’t frightening, but the lack of a soundtrack, the fact that no faces are shown, and the low-quality video combine into a strangely realistic movie which, of course, makes Skinamarink that much more frightening.
Ultimately though, Skinamarink’s success is in making viewers question what is real and what isn’t. At the beginning of the movie, viewers overhear Kyle’s father telling someone that Kyle fell down the stairs and hit his head while sleepwalking. This brings up an important question: are these events really happening, or is it little Kevin’s personal nightmare brought on by a closed-head injury? As the plot spools out, one childish nightmare after another unfolds. The first comes when Kevin and his sister can’t find their father. From there, young Kevin’s world shrinks until, eventually, he’s left with nothing but the television, which is as sinister of a presence as the monster. Although it’s never clear whether the events are really happening, it’s clear that this is real to the only person who matters: Kyle. It’s his reality, and it’s terrifying.