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Skinamarink (2022) SFFF Review

The year is 1995. The two very young kids Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) are alone in their house amusing themselves by eating cereal and watching old 1930s cartoons on their big old TV. All while building a little sprawling metropolis of Lego and Duplo. They don’t know where their parents are. All of the windows and doors have vanished. Along with some other household objects. And a deep, gargling voice speaks abruptly to them from the shadows, demanding that it wants to play.

The premise is chilling. Shot in Edmonton, Alberta at the director Kyle Edward Ball’s own childhood home, Skinamarink is a house of horrors of the finest variety. Ball has curated quite a collection of toys here for spook-ifying purposes. Shot on analog film, with a wide variety of presets and overlays on the film, it’s meant to convey a nostalgic, 90s feel. It’s a trip, and Skinamarink is one of those films to watch late at night.

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That was when I watched it. Skinamarink is a film that gets under your skin, with haunting visuals that linger long after the movie has ended. The film pulls you in with suffocatingly close camera angles provided by cinematographer Jamie McRae. Every shot is crafted with deliberate care. You see the corners of rooms, the backs of people’s heads and chairs. This is one reason why it’s described as an experimental horror film. It goes way beyond what any “found footage” film would do, by offering different perspectives.

At one point, the narrative will be from a child’s perspective, or even simply from… the house’s perspective. By getting you close to what’s happening with the camera angles, Skinamarink also tricks you into staring at the dark “void” places where the light doesn’t reach and can make you go a little crazy as a result. When you spend a lot of time looking for something in the darkness, you start to imagine that you see things. And the way the film looks, you might have seen something, or you might have seen a projectionist’s bubble.

Ball is very good at creating these feelings of fear, dread, and eventually hysteria wholesale with a lot of cool film tricks. The cinematography tricks make you question your reality in the same way that a child might question theirs late at night in their dark house with the lights off and only the light from the TV pouring into the room.

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The film makes you question your reality, and not only because of the darkness. It’s also because a lot of time you spend watching Skinamarink is spent looking at a shot that’s all set up and wondering what has changed about it. This is what makes scenes like a shot set up with a Fisher-Price phone so effective. And a lot of the horror gags, like disappearing doors, or other things, made my mouth drop open in shock, rather than jump or curse.

Honestly, I loved all of it, but my favourite part about Skinamarink was the choice on the part of Ball to include subtitles. Subtitles aren’t always needed, but they are especially effective when watching the conversations between the kids and the malevolent force that lives in the upstairs of their house.

With no film score (apart from some really creepy cartoons) and a run-time of 100 minutes, Skinamarink could be considered a challenging watch. But Skinamarink’s effectiveness isn’t jump scares, it’s environmental horror that adds or takes away from the setting. The movie asks a lot of its viewers, and the daring pace that Ball sets will have viewers either rushing to keep up or risk being left behind. And that’s just it-a lot of what makes Skinamarink work so well is allowing the viewer to use their imagination and keep an open mind. If you like a movie with a slow burn and an excellent payoff, you will like this one.

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Taking a moment to marvel at how this Canadian debut director’s horror was made is part of what is so incredible about Skinamarink. An independent Canadian director’s debut film, horror as well, on a microbudget and based on the buzz it’s a breakout smash hit at Fantasia Film Festival. It’s been an awful long time since I’ve been to the theatre with the express intent of seeing a horror movie that I was actually excited about. I usually go see horror movies and end up being disappointed for one reason or another.

Skinamarink won’t be for everyone. But Skinamarink is the first horror in a while that got me to feel something, as it certainly inspired a sense of dread and horror for me. I’m a parent of a toddler, and I was still stupid enough to go see this movie when it played at the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival, haha. Now I’m going to turn on every light on my way to the bathroom at night, for the next several nights at least, because of that final closing shot. If you’re looking for more movies like Skinamarink, FilmTagger can offer some suggestions.

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