Indie Horror Skinamarink Is Getting A Theatrical And Streaming Release – Here's Why That Matters

If you've been keeping up with Film Twitter drama or HorrorTok trends of late, this news is for you, and it's some of the best we've gotten in the horror genre for some time. Microbudget horror sensation "Skinamarink" will receive a theatrical run through IFC Midnight beginning on January 13, 2023. It has also been acquired by horror streaming service Shudder and will debut on the platform later next year, with a date to be announced.

"I'm thrilled that after months of keeping it secret, I can finally tell everyone that my weird movie is going to be in theaters and on Shudder," writer-director and producer Kyle Edward Ball said in a statement to Variety on Monday, December 5, 2022.

The film stars Lucas Paul, Dali Rose Tetreault, Ross Paul, and Jaime Hill and was executive produced by Edmon Rotea, Ava Karvonen, Bonnie Lewis, Alan Lewis, Josh Doke, and Jonathan Barkan. Emily Gotto, Shudder's VP of global acquisitions and co-productions, and Jonathan Barkan of BayView Entertainment negotiated the acquisition deal on behalf of the filmmaker, we have independently confirmed.

Here's the film's official synopsis, but reader beware:

Two children wake up in the middle of the night to find their father is missing, and all the windows and doors in their home have vanished. To cope with the strange situation, the two bring pillows and blankets to the living room and settle into a quiet slumber party situation. They play well worn videotapes of cartoons to fill the silence of the house and distract from the frightening and inexplicable situation. All the while in the hopes that eventually some grown-ups will come to rescue them. However, after a while it becomes clear that something is watching over them.

Tell me about the whole Skinamarink controversy, please

"Skinamarink" has garnered a ton of interest through the festival circuit (including a smash debut at Fantasia International Film Festival) for being a deeply unsettling mix of found-footage kinder horror and dreamlike Lynchian experimental film. It's simple, atmospheric, and turns our minds against us in ways that even some of the very best horror films have struggled to do. Naturally, word-of-mouth has been tough to stomach for those who didn't have access to film festivals for various reasons.

Over the last month or so, "Skinamarink" was reportedly stolen from one festival's screening platform during its virtual presentation and subsequently leaked online to the point where copies existed on both YouTube and websites that host pirated content for equitable viewing. Clips of the film's best scenes became sensations on TikTok and Reddit, while everyone who had eagerly lapped up the stolen copy of the movie rushed to update their Letterboxd accounts to rate the film (and collect their capital-c Clout). Some creators even went as far as to fully review the film via TikTok and YouTube after watching the pirated copy.

This series of events started an uproar online, with a debate firmly planted in a two-sided argument. Some argued that pirating "Skinamarink" was for some kind of common good that entrenched the filmmaker and his work in the public consciousness, creating a hit. Others said the stolen copy's circulation only hurt the filmmaker and his prospects for making a living on a piece of work so deserving of the financial success it was destined to have. Thankfully, the film already had distribution when it was pirated, but the leak has had an immeasurably harmful impact on its future success. 

Why does any of this matter?

This is the question to end all questions about piracy, and this small but mighty film is why it's being asked a lot as of late. Let's talk about independent film and how the system, so to speak, works.

Accolades — reviews, awards, and the like — are good for a filmmaker, but when in conversation with a studio or distributor (big or small) about potential work, those execs are also looking at the success of the filmmaker's previous projects. Success has many metrics, but ultimately it means one major thing: dollars. 

This brings me to my next point. The overwhelming majority of folks who watch a movie are one-and-done folks, especially when it comes to independent cinema. They aren't like me, a critic who sometimes watches a film five times before filing a piece or who just loves some movies so much that they're frequently on repeat. If they watch a pirated copy, the studio has lost its chance of making any money from that experience. It's considered a loss, and it's a factor that weighs heavy on an independent filmmaker.

The price filmmakers pay

This doesn't just apply to online rentals, purchases, or even theater ticket sales. This also applies to your standard streaming platforms like Hulu, Netflix, or wherever the film ends up in the on-demand landscape. They've already seen it, and again, most people don't rewatch movies several times over, so studios aren't making a return on the streaming numbers either. The online support for the film — which often comes from folks who have illegally watched the movie — ends up paling compared to what could've been done monetarily in the studio's eyes. The numbers simply do not support the filmmaker at that point.

This sentiment potentially matters less for big-budget studio pictures like Marvel films and major blockbusters. But for an independent filmmaker trying to carve out a place for themselves, it often leads to their undoing. That filmmaker is going to have to deal with all the same hoops to jump through to make that next film while, most of the time, still owing money to the investors of the first film that got all that online support but no cash. Even if the money from their debut can't be recouped through distribution, the filmmaker still has to find a way to pay it back. 

What happens then? It's not hard to guess: most filmmakers in this position, those not backed by a trust fund or some kind of angel investment, simply have to stop making films.

Dictating the terms of release

Not all films are guaranteed to recoup their investment. Not every film is a tentpole franchise that's practically scientifically proven to skyrocket beyond its budget on return. The ones who don't have that in the bag deserve the best shot at it they can get, especially the ones that stand out from the crowd.

Throughout the course of the discourse, I noticed how many people felt they had the right to watch the film at their whim, simply because they wanted to. I also noticed how many folks thought they were genuinely helping the filmmaker by getting his work out there and letting it be seen broadly as if many of them were falsely under the impression that "Skinamarink" was a piece of lost media that would never get a release. There is a sense of entitlement and even a level of ignorance at play in both of these perspectives, one that highlights a filmmaker's right to determine the terms of release of their film. They deserve to be able to craft their film's entry into the world and have it seen how they want it to be seen.

Support within the system

The release plan for a film is a well-oiled process executed with precision in collaboration with the filmmaker and reflects their vision for essentially birthing their firstborn. It's an experience they should have as much say in as possible, and distributing a stolen copy of their film puts that at great risk. In a way, it even taints the experience for the viewer because they're not getting what the filmmaker intended.

Ultimately, it comes down to this. If you want more from directors like Kyle Edward Ball, or any independent filmmakers at even the smallest levels, you have to support those stories within the confines of the current system. Yes, that means waiting for an official release to do so. It would be incredible to live in a world where capital and art don't even live in the same neighborhood, and a beautiful medium like film — and, really, any and all art — could be enjoyed freely by all, but that's not the industry that has been built up around creative endeavors. Whether we like it or not, we live in a capitalist society, which isn't changing any time soon. Support these projects and artists through the right channels, so we can celebrate their successes in a way that will lift them to new heights.