Directed by: Kyle Edward Ball
Distributed by: IFC Midnight

Written by Michael Clawson

Spare and eerily spellbinding, Kyle Edward Ball’s avant-garde horror film “Skinamarink” taps into an ineffable childhood fear: to be alone in a dark house at night, when shadows and creaks can make even the most familiar rooms and objects into vessels for the terrifying unknown. Made for a mere $15,000, the film evokes the spirit and form of the experimental horror shorts of Takashi Ito, begging little comparison to other contemporary horror movies that you’re likely to see at the multiplex. But thanks to strong word-of-mouth after its festival debut, the theater in your local mall is, amazingly, exactly the place where this unsettling abstraction could, and should, be seen.

You hardly see the faces of any of “Skinamarink’s” characters. We see the pajama-clad legs of Kevin and Kaylee, two very young kids, as they shuffle across the carpet between their bedrooms and living room, wondering where their father has gone in the middle of the night. We hear them whispering to each other as Ball’s static camera takes in hallways, room corners, light fixtures, and ‘90s ephemera (Legos, stuffed animals, a landline phone). The thick grain of the digital cinematography and the blue light emanating from old cartoons on a TV evoke the look of an old VHS tape, while also conjuring the fogginess of a dreamscape. Where a Takashi Ito film like 1984’s “Ghost” explores the realm of nightmares through a rapid deployment of visual effects, “Skinamarink” slows way down, lulling you into its surreal mystery through its minimalism and measured pace.

Incomprehension is at the heart of the film’s power to disturb. Kevin and Kaylee don’t understand why the windows and doors of their house have flickered out of existence, trapping them inside, nor do they grasp the reason for the absence of their parents. “Skinamarink” isn’t concerned with who Kevin and Kaylee are, but what they feel. Their capacity to experience fear – of abandonment, or neglect – far exceeds their ability to parse what’s happening around them. Through its rigorous formalism, “Skinamarink” distills a young child’s experience of fear and confusion to its purest state.

“Skinamarink” Trailer

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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