Skinamarink Review: An Experimental Kinder Trauma Horror Experience [Fantasia]

"Skinamarink" is a kinder trauma experiment put to screen with indescribable contents. Writer and director Kyle Edward Ball epitomizes arthouse classifiers while channeling childhood fears with marvelous rawness. Reader beware, because "Skinamarink" is exquisitely divisive — the kind of film that will balance zero and five-star reviews. That said, those seeking an abstract exploration of lights-out anxieties by lo-fi means should seek this shot-on-film-lookin' curiosity that abides by no conventional filmmaking rules. Imaginative children play and create on their boundless terms anyway because rules are made to be broken, aren't they?

Whatever loose narrative Ball constructs follows siblings Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault). The two children awake in the middle of the night, realizing their father has vanished. So have windows, doors, and other ordinary objects around their house. Kevin and Kaylee are prisoners of the darkness and trapped within their quarters, which morphs into menacing confinement without parental supervision or protection.

Ball transports audiences back to those unmistakable waking nightmares of wandering around households while mommies and daddies slumber, hearing floorboards creak, and walls squeak as heat and cold expand architecture. Remember the sensation of your ears flattening against your head when darting up basement or ground-floor stairways, away from silent nothingness like a gaping mouth? "Skinamarink" is an experience of warped mundanity, dreary moods, and repressed paranoias most prevalent in our youths, which Ball recreates with alarming intimacy. We often seek comfort in feeling like kids again, but in this case, Ball presents a monkey's paw solution brimming with supreme juvenile terrorization.

Wildest bedroom boogeyman fantasies

Now, Ball's methods are irrefutably stylistic but not with universal appeal. "Skinamarink" is marred by static like cinematographer Jamie McRae used relic cameras, the lens refuses to frame characters beyond feet, and long stretches are stationary gazes into infinite blankness with tracking fuzz. Maybe an upstairs corridor, doorway, or opened closet — over 100 minutes of angular shot selection without reveals while eerie noises suggest otherworldly visitors. Indeed, this brand of ambiguous horror ambiance will become an overpowering drone to anyone demanding narrative structure and traditional Hollywood molds. That's the gamble filmmakers take when they create from places of uncompromising vision, and the results will be as expected. Yet, there's intrigue and personality to Ball's barebones bumps-in-the-night confrontation.

As "Skinamarink" lulls its audience with sights akin to the scariest sequences of "Poltergeist" or "The Blair Witch Project," short-bust frights seep into reality breakdowns beyond missing entryways or exits. Kevin and Kaylee whisper to voices unknown about stabbed eyes and appropriate behavior. Comparisons to more affronting scares recall that nasty number from "Lake Mungo," where hands reach from places we — as children — once convinced ourselves demons reside. "Skinamarink" proves our wildest bedroom boogeyman fantasies right, albeit at a length that is sometimes detrimental to the overall pacing and toddler-shuffling momentum. Ball's intentions are purely punishing as a manipulation of psychological horror treatments that convince us what's happening off-camera is much worse than can be shown. However, it's still a rough-around-the-edges conceptualization that requires trimming to sustain its overlong barrage of kinder-vicious imagery.

"Skinamarink" comes together like a claustrophobic clip-show of grainy trauma footage that resembles "The Ring" VHS tape or other cursed media artifacts. Kyle Edward Ball might be considered equal parts fearless and foolhardy, depending on who's asked, because he's passionate about the uniqueness of his patient production. As the floors become ceilings, figures lurk behind shadows, and safety destabilizes, "Skinamarink" becomes more and more a picture of nightmares come alive. We've fled the same sounds as Kevin and Kaylee, or used the glow of television sets to ward off evils — familiarity is Ball's secret sauce. As everything comes together, even without narrative safeguards in place, there will be those — like me — who will remain in awe of how tremendously "Skinamarink" translates terrifying memories long buried into horror celluloid used to scare once again.