‘Go to sleep…’
When you’re a kid you’re afraid of everything. Sure, one of my most formative memories was having nightmares for weeks having accidentally glimpsed the VHS cover of The Evil Dead in my local video shop, but I was also convinced that the folds in the curtains in my parents’ bedroom contained grinning, leering faces. It’s not always the obvious stuff. I have vivid memories of waking up in the middle of the night and being sure that I could see faces peering at me through the darkness. Skinamarink imagines a world where all of those faces are real…
Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) are two young children who wake up in the middle of the night to discover their parents are gone and their house no longer has any windows or doors. That’s all the plot there is, and it’s genuinely all this film needs.
In the surrealist cinema movement, Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel attempted to apply dream logic to the medium of film in their bizarre masterpiece Un Chien Andalou. Here, writer-director Kyle Edward Ball has introduced us to nightmare logic. You may have seen the term ‘nightmarish’ to describe a horror film before, but honestly, nobody has ever seen anything like this before. It’s experimental and avant-garde, but it’s also utterly absorbing and gut-churningly terrifying.
Filmed using grainy handheld or static cameras, Skinamarink is mostly shot in complete darkness using extreme close-ups. This means that we never get a full idea of the geography of the house that the children are in. Certain shots are repeated over and over again, random pieces of lego scattered across a carpeted floor, an old television playing black and white cartoons, but each time they are a little different, a little more sinister. And in this film, there really are faces everywhere. You have to squint to make them out, but you know that they are always there. Watching. Waiting.
I endured this film in the comfort of my own home and I genuinely can’t imagine how someone could sit through it in a cinema. The sound design is ingenious and increasingly ominous, and I don’t think I’ve been this frightened watching a horror film since I was a kid. Some people won’t be able to stomach the experimental filming style, but if you can get past that… you are left with a truly evil film. Indeed, my wife, who found the entire experience excruciating, commented as the end credits rolled that whoever had made the film should be, and I quote, “put in prison”. Extreme perhaps, but I understand the sentiment.
Imagine a film that is a combination of the final scene of The Blair Witch Project and the video that they watch in The Ring but for an hour and forty minutes. That’s what this is. It’s brutal. It’s unrelenting. It might just be an instant horror classic.