Review: Skinamarink — Fantasia Festival 2022

I’ve never seen anything quite like it. There’s so much visual noise in these dark shots that you have to squint just to make out the outline of objects in the frame. Camera placement is often very low or very high, capturing fragments of doorways and hallways. A child hits his head, we’re told, but he won’t require stitches. 15 minutes go by before we see a room in this house fully illuminated. The light at the top of the steps clicks off. Darkness. The boy calls out for his father. No answer.

Skinamarink is a childhood nightmare you had when your parents were out and you convinced yourself that your babysitter had left you alone in the house. It is that late night curiosity when you woke up and couldn’t fall back asleep. It is the cavernous hallway between your bedroom and your parents’ after you were startled awake by a bad dream. It is you finding yourself awake well before everyone else in the house and sneaking downstairs to watch those cartoons that only played at 3:00 am. The old cartoons.

Formally inventive and eerie in its ambiance, Skinamarink has the atmosphere of being a small child in a big-seeming house, and being both afraid and curiously drawn to the quiet of the night. The movie captures this titillating, morbid childhood curiosity, but the story it tells goes far darker in its twisted fantasy. There’s something wrong with mommy. There’s no way out of this house.

I watched this film as a press screener in the comfort of my own home. If I had seen it in a theater setting, I think I would have had a panic attack. It is a mood piece with a constant presence of lurking dread. The occasional unexplained banging or knocking. The foreboding open spaces and hidden corners. The disembodied voices. It all accumulates into a horror experience where your own imagination does most of the scaring.

A lesser horror film would squander the tension of these audiovisual spaces with cheap scares and mediocre effects (there are only one or two of these cheap and mediocre tactics here). Sitting in the tension makes it more restless, more squeamish. Kyle Edward Ball, in this feature debut, prefers to sit in the tension, to stew in.

There is a set piece in the center of the film which is impeccably staged and painfully deliberate in its pace (this is a compliment, to be clear). One of the two children make their way up to the parents’ bedroom, where things are decidedly not all right. The scene ends in a bad jump scare, but the rest of it is pretty amazing stuff.

While I could see this film being less effective upon second viewing (those vacant, elongated shots of LEGO-strewn floors can only be unsettling the first go around, I’d think), the mood piece that is Skinamarink is designed to get under your skin. It got deep under mine — etched its way below the surface and then started scratching.

Skinamarink: B+

As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)


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