Skinamarink ★★★★½

Having honed his style through five years of translating Redditor nightmares into horror shorts, director Kyle Edward Ball’s hypnagogic feature follows a pair of young siblings who awake to find their parents gone and their house a phantasmagoric prison. Narratively, Skinamarink feels akin to a Poltergeist whose influences are the menacing architecture of K.Kurosawa, the analog unease of Kōji Shiraishi, the first-person terror of indie horror games (Kitty Horrorshow’s Anatomy especially), rather than gothic horror’s hauntings. That is, if Poltergeist had zero mercy for its young victims and trapped us in the uncomprehending child’s-eye perspective of being caught in eldritch clutches. 

Describing Skinamarink as creepypasta or Internet horror vibed onto celluloid - versus the conventionally-made (and also superb) Channel Zero - would be accurate, but it wouldn’t get across why this experimental horror film is so effectively unnerving. I totally get why many might bounce off of this hard and remember the film as just endless shots of hallways, off-kilter doorways, and flickering televisions. But I think those choices emphasize who - or rather what - emerges as the true main character. When not locking us into agonizingly creepy POV shots, Ball’s camera unmoors itself from the actors, reducing them to fleeting figures and disembodied voices trapped in a domestic labyrinth. The house’s dark spaces are rendered as such a slithering mass of grainy blackness that the shadows begin to feel like an ever-present entity coiling around its prey, the askew camera angles like a gaze lurking and stalking. A house’s creaks and groans ossify into distorted whispers, answering cries for parents with commands to come upstairs, to play, to look under the bed.

Too long? Probably. Ball did expand his half-hour horror short Heck into an 100-minute feature. But also skin-crawlingly eerie, oozing with nebulous dread and phantasmal imagery? Absolutely. Skinamarink is the hopeless waking nightmare for the child in all of us: the one scared of the ajar closet door, the pool of shadows in a bedroom corner, the witching-hour rumble reverberating from the basement. In the lair of this beast, the devouring dark is scary again.

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