‘Skinamarink’ – An experimental horror film that elicits more yawns than chills.

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The term Pareidolia was first used in articles by German psychiatrist Karl Ludwig Kahlbaum in 1866.  It’s an umbrella term used to denote how humans will look at nebulous or inanimate objects (such as clouds, a chair, a huge spot on a wall or even just a dark room) and tend to see some kind of face or shape within it if they stare at it long enough. ‘Skinamarink’ is all about the Pareidolia. The film (directed and written by Kyle Edward Ball) has the barest plot.  In 1995, two children, Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) and Kevin (Lucas Paul), wake up late at night and begin walking around their huge house.  They soon realize that the windows are disappearing, then the doors to the outside, and their mom and dad are acting strangely.  As the night progresses, things get creepier.  What’s going on in this house?

It’s hard to define what exactly ‘Skinamarink’ is.  I suppose you could call it a type of found footage horror, as the whole film consists of grainy footage that could have been recorded with a handheld video camera back in the 90’s. There’s no plot or direction, though.  The film is 100 minutes in length and for the first hour of that time, we’re watching and listening to the children wander around the house, or sit in front of a TV watching eerie cartoons from the 1930’s (that are public domain, according to the blurb at the beginning of the film).  Except for one scene, we never see any of the characters’ faces, neither the kids nor their parents.

What we do see are a LOT of dark hallways and rooms, or corners of doors and floorboards.  Yes, doors and floorboards.  At one point I chuckled, because I imagined this could be some weird video created by an imaginative realtor with a dark sense of humor trying to sell a house.  “Look at these sturdy door corners, and take a look at those cool bathroom fixtures!  Gaze into the dark corridors!  Satan commands you to buy this house!”
I have to admit that in the first few minutes, I really bonded with the film and these off-kilter shots of dark corridors and creaking doors.  Each shot is held for just a beat longer than expected, and you find yourself gazing into the darkness, trying to see something there, or clenching up expecting something to jump out of it.  But as the film dragged on and I saw the same corners and hallways over and over with no substance or payoff, ennui set in, and I wanted the whole thing to just end.

On the plus side, the last 40 minutes are VERY creepy and have two moments that chilled me to the bone.  Had 20 or 30 minutes been sliced off of the first hour and we’d gotten to this part quicker, the film would have been far better. Also in the last few minutes, the film takes on a metaphysical bent, with a long scene both horrifying and trippy that reminded me of an ultra low-budget version of the trippy Stargate scene from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Finally, I loved when a window or door would vanish, because the effect was so cheaply done (the object popping out via a jump cut paired with a tinny chime sound) it reminded me of a cheesy special effect from one of those old Sid and Marty Krofft shows.  When a window popped out of existence, I kept imagining Witchiepoo from ‘H.R. Pufnstuf’ or Elektra Woman and Dyna-Girl to pop in, accompanied by disco music, of course.  It definitely took me out of the film for a moment.

Years from now, this film’s going to be either totally forgotten or there are going to be tons of papers and analysis written on it.  I’ve heard at least four interpretations from different people on what they think is happening in the film, and all of them sound valid.  Plain old me just watched it as a simple horror film, not looking for any deep messages or symbolism, and maybe that’s the wrong way to watch it. I admire Kyle Edward Ball for making this film on a $15,000 budget and getting it into theaters.  When low-budget films with unique visions bust through the Berlin Wall of blockbusters that the studios have erected to keep the little guys out, that’s a great thing for anyone who loves film.  It sounds like ‘Skinamarink’ has made a million dollars so far, so even though I felt the film was a dud, maybe this will pave the way for other small independent films to get the attention they deserve, and that makes me optimistic about the future.

Grade: D

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