Despite poorly developed characters and a lack of plot, Kyle Edward Ball’s indie horror flick “Skinamarink” creates one of the most unnerving experiences in film through its intense atmosphere and unique cinematography.
Produced primarily through crowdfunding with a meager budget of $15,000, “Skinamarink” follows two children named Kaylee and Kevin who wake up to find their parents have disappeared, along with all the doors and windows to their house. Despite the fact that the two children — played by newcomers Lucas Paul and Dali Rose Tetreault — are the only two characters in the film, they are almost never fully seen on screen, always obstructed or just out of frame. The plot is similarly confusing, as the majority of the film revolves around the children wandering around their house looking for ways to cure their boredom. This means the film has no visible characters, no real plot, and was made on a budget equal to a single UTD semester. And yet, despite its many obstacles, “Skinamarink” may be the most terrifying film of the year, as the elements that appear to be the film’s weaknesses actually help entrench fear in the viewer’s imagination.
The lack of characterization and plot could be seen as major flaws of the film, but both of these choices actually serve to absorb the audience further into the film’s chaos. “Skinamarink’s” only characters are two confused and fearful children. Even though the characters have little else that defines them, the audience is immediately connected to them because each member of the audience can relate to being a scared child. The characters don’t need any greater purpose because the characters don’t really matter, as they are simply extensions of the audience’s own childish terror. Thus, there is not really a need for a plot. A child doesn’t need a reason to be scared — they just are. Putting the audience in the children’s shoes is all the film needs to be terrifying.
The film’s greatest strength is its unique ability to break the conventions of horror. In a typical horror film, each scary moment is often followed up by a lighter, more relaxed scene, allowing the audience to gain a false sense of security. However, “Skinamarink” avoids this structure, with each terrifying moment followed by more darkness and obscurity. Even as the progresses through its runtime, the audience is never given a full view of the action, giving the viewer the impression that any scene could be the next terrifying moment. Due to this, “Skinamarink” plays out more like an endless nightmare than a horror film, as the confusion and atmosphere never let the audience recover.
The key element that differentiates “Skinamarink” from the typical horror fare is its cinematography, as the film generally refuses to show the viewer exactly what’s happening. While this may seem like an odd choice, it works incredibly well for a horror film, as terror is typically built by allowing the viewer’s imagination to run rampant. Whereas a normal horror film might show its killer right from the start, like Ghostface in “Scream” or Michael Myers in “Halloween”, the majority of the shots in “Skinamarink” focus on dark hallways or characters hidden behind a couch or behind a wall. In doing this, the audience might hear the characters talking or see bits and pieces of what’s going on, but much of the horror is left to the viewer’s imagination. This allows the terror of the unknown to creep into the film, as some unseen threat begins to close in on Kaylee and Kevin, lurking in the darkness. As the audience takes in the terror of the screen’s simulated darkness, they begin to grow aware of the shadows surrounding them in the world, forcing the terror of the screen to bleed into reality and bringing a long forgotten fear of the dark back to the audience.
The unconventional cinematography, underwhelming characters and plot admittedly make “Skinamarink” a film that won’t please everyone. However, it differentiates itself as one of the most unique horror films ever made due to its masterful ability to terrify its audience without showing the viewer much at all. This film deserves to be seen on the big screen if only for its originality, but with the film’s theatrical run ending in mid-February, time is in short supply. The film will soon make its way to horror streaming platform Shudder. Until then, audiences should make their way to select theaters as quickly as they can to see how “Skinamarink” reinvents horror.