The thing you should know about Skinamarink going in is that it’s a movie which does everything in its power to not be a movie. Call it an experience, call it an experiment, call it a nightmare simulator. Whatever it is, it’s unlike any movie you’ll see this year, skirting almost every cinematic convention you’ve ever heard about.
The actors’ faces, for example, are never shown. Virtually every shot seems to have no clear focus, with objects and subjects obscured or only partially in-frame, the camera seemingly misplaced and left on by mistake. Shots are often uncomfortably long and lingering, the image quality is oppressively lo-fi, and there’s no traditional soundtrack to speak of. On the surface, it’s almost as if the movie wasn’t meant to be watched by an audience at all. But Skinamarink, directed by Kyle Edward Ball in his feature debut, isn’t some weird-just-to-be-weird art project lacking any real substance; it’s a mesmerizing film that captures the nebulousness of fear with fractured storytelling that’s more about feeling than interpreting.
The story is about two young siblings, Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault), who are haunted by a monster in the shadows of their home when their parents—and the house’s doors and windows—mysteriously disappear. Filmed in Ball’s childhood home in Edmonton on a micro budget of just $15,000, the film is at once ephemeral and meditative, slipping in and out of images and moments in the house in a way that seems disjointed at first but ultimately comes together beautifully. The story is actually quite simple and timeless in a way; like a fable. But there’s nothing concrete or conventional about the way Ball presents it, and that’s the beauty of the thing.
Visually, shots are often fixated on odd corners of the house—the ceiling above a doorway, a patch of carpet, the back of an armchair—or from the point of view of one of the characters. The film’s lighting is predominantly shadowy and dark, with light sometimes coming from the living room TV set that’s playing old cartoons on VHS. The images get so dark, in fact, that in certain moments it’s difficult to make out what the hell you’re looking at (the lo-fi post-production effects further obscure things). It’s seriously creepy stuff, especially if you were the type of kid who was scared stiff of walking around the house in the dark past midnight.