There’s something wrong with the house found in Kyle Edward Ball’s SKINAMARINK. In fact, there’s something wrong with practically everything residing in the house too.
Seemingly dragged from the dredges of the micro-budget indie corner and thrown into the mainstream world proper, SKINAMARINK manages to do a lot with a little; at least when it comes to creeping you the hell out. Story wise, intentionally (whether due to budget constraints or the filmmaker’s imagination), the film is content to offer very little to latch onto. The basics are this: it’s 1995 in some random house, it’s nighttime, and two children, Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault), are up and looking for their seemingly missing parents. But even those details (outside of the timeframe) are delivered through sparse means. We hardly see the children’s faces and even the dialogue they speak in whispers is so near to being non-understandable that Ball motions to add subtitles to clear up the sparse conversations held between the tykes.
In this nightmare world he’s created, Mr. Ball’s normal house become tomb-like mazes plagued by pitch dark rooms and flickering passages, parents become ghostly figures with only deadly intentions for their children, and the glow of a TV becomes a safe haven desperately trying to keep back whatever’s lurking in the shadows. Simply put, this is every child’s fuzzy nightmare brought to the big screen. A rather static film — Ball, with cinematographer Jamie McRae, opt for stationary camera shots aimed at corners and ceilings and overlay the film with an intended old school fuzz that further muddles the visuals — SKINAMARINK unsettles in its lack of movement. However, Ball and his crew are a lot more mischievous than they initially put on, as the film, pulls the comfort of its static-ness off the table and opens up the perspective to more kinetic and personal spaces. It’s in those moments where the film terrifyingly lives up to its word of mouth hype as a foreboding horror endeavor. The true power of Ball’s film is found in the filmmaker’s penchant for turning a single, ordinary setting into a confusing, otherworldly jail for both the characters and the audience.
Nevertheless, it’d be hard to blame a viewer for asking, “Is that it?”, when it comes to what this film ultimately has to offer. It more or less is a mood piece, one that relies on imagery and feeling (albeit imagery and feelings consumed by unknowing dread) more so than on any grand themes or narrative propulsion. And for the most part, if the ideas of dark hallways and monster-ish, ghostly noises don’t seem that spooky to you, you’ll probably just be checking your clock to see when this thing ends. I can’t lie, even I was craving for this film’s conclusion when it entered its final 30 minutes, but that’s mainly due to the fact that the film ups the imagery and implied violence it’s been setting up for the first hour and 10 minutes.
Still, SKINAMARINK is a refreshing piece of work. It’s great to know a small budget film like this can still vaguely tap into that BLAIR WITCH PROJECT “word-of-mouth” energy and mysteriousness. Who’s to say if the film holds up on second viewing once one already witnesses its secrets? Even if it might not stand the tests of a re-watch, I won’t deny that its first watch shook me to the core.