Scaring the Kids

They'll Probably Need Therapy Anyway

“Skinamarink” Review

I mean, yeah, I’m gonna talk about this movie. Writing a “Skinamarink” review is how I’m going to process what I just saw.

You’ve probably already seen it. Right? That’s why you’re here in the first place. It’s called “confirmation bias.” You’re looking for stuff that agrees with you.

It’s ok. We all do it.

Well, I didn’t not like it. It’s really compelling in some aspects, and really tedious in others. I don’t think that’s a hot take, though. You probably agree.

But, man. If it weren’t for the description on Shudder, I wouldn’t have a clue as to what was happening. I guess this is where I should say “spoilers ahead” or something, but to be honest, I’m not sure if I could spoil anything for you.

Scary Trailer and Then…

I love everything about the promise of this film. Here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it. I like the hard-to-decipher images, the font, and the ’80s-esque voiceover. It all does it for me.

Ok, an quick aside: The font, the voiceover and the phones are all really ’80s, aren’t they? Not mid-’90s? Did anyone else feel that way? As a (physically) grown person in the ’90s, I’m pretty sure that font was already a bit retro. Just sayin’.

It’s spooky. It’s creepy. It really builds tension. In that sense, the trailer makes this look like a great horror film.

I think two things really brought the film down from what I hoped it would be. I won’t dwell on these–I think many others have already said it better–but I will acknowledge them. Because, unfortunately, I don’t think they are surmountable.

Those Annoying Camera Angles

First, it is unpleasant to spend the whole movie feeling like you are waiting for it to start. You know, like the old-school movie intros where you are swooping over a pastoral setting, or following a little girl as she rides her bike through the quaint little town that will be the backdrop of the story? Those parts? They should be relegated to the first minute—90 seconds max—of a movie. At first, I was like, “Cool. They are messing with us and upending our usual experience.” Soon, though, I was annoyed. I really wanted to just see one dang room. The whole room.

The artistic nature of the film got in the way of its great concept. Going back to that all-important film description on Shudder, I needed that information to even have a chance to understand what I was seeing.

Here’s the description from Shudder’s website: “Two children wake up in the middle of the night to find their father is missing, and all the windows and doors in their home have vanished.” Thank goodness Shudder at least threw us that bone.

The windows and doors to the outside of the house disappear with a cool, sci-fi-y, laser-y sound, and we see a doorway flicker away or mini-blinds pulled up to reveal nothing behind them but more wall. But we only see part of the door, or half of the window, and it is shot so close that it is hard to even understand that we are looking at a door or window in the first place. The anticipation that came from those teasing angles quickly turned into frustration at the inability to figure out what the hell I was looking at. If it hadn’t been for that clutch Shudder description, I wouldn’t have made it through the first 20 minutes.

Also: Why don’t these people use the lights in their house? Was the electricity just that expensive in the mid ’90s? It’s maddening.

Aside from the frustrating camera work, I’m afraid that the spooky just stays spooky and doesn’t develop much from there. We never understand what is happening to the kids, who don’t really even speak much to each other. Then, suddenly, there is a comedic moment when the toilet disappears, and you see two buckets slid into the bathroom where just moments ago, the toilet “whooo-woooo-whoooed” on outta there. It’s a funny moment, but completely out of place and alone in the film. Instead of feeling relieved from the relentless tension, you just feel confused.

I could go on about how the film lets the audience down, but I won’t because when “Skinamarink” does something well, it does it really well.

Exploiting Primal Fears

One of the scariest aspects of the film was the meek and worried “Dad?” heard as the kids figure out something weird is going on. We hear this creepy call for Dad early on when he goes missing and then occasionally throughout the rest of the movie. This is especially scary because while the kids just go about their routine the best they can without Dad, even their best attempts at fun are tainted with an underlying fear.

This is where the wonky angles and annoying darkness work best. They allow the confusion and disorientation felt by the very young children to be felt by the audience.

In my post about the gateway horror movie, “Return to Oz”, I listed my children’s fears. Not cute ones, like being scared of butterflies (looking at you, kiddo #1), but legitimate fears. Both of my kids really fear being left behind by me or their dad. It doesn’t rise to the level of making them anxious during the day, but it does emerge in their nightmares pretty regularly. It’s a primal fear; they have never been accidentally left behind before.

The film conveys the kids’ confusion and fear really well—this despite the fact that we don’t get to see their faces. Yet. While they try to keep things normal, there is palpable panic underlying their attempts to make the most of having no parents around (non-stop TV, sleeping in the living room, cereal for all meals, etc.). This is where the bizarre—sorry, experimental—camerawork really adds to the mood of the film.

The Upside-Down

Things start getting interesting when there is a noise and we are treated to an angle that is finally wide enough to let us know exactly what is happening. A weird noise can be heard offscreen, and then we are treated to a shot of a dining room chair casually resting on the ceiling. Like it belongs there.

Now, this disorienting kind of, “things-are-normal-except-for-one-really-wrong-thing” is where I live. This horror device is what reminds me of a dream that is so real until you realize that cat has your sister’s eyes. It’s good horror.

Things visit the ceiling or a wall quite a bit in the film. Almost (but not quite) too often, really. Things really get nuts when the boy is summoned upstairs in the later part of the movie. It’s really good, and I won’t spoil it. Although, you already know, don’t you?

So What is It?

Dunno. Sorry.

There are some classically demonic moves that make me thing, “Oh, yeah. Little dude’s totally being harassed by a demon.” Then again, there are other moments when I think I’m being taken back to a “Sixth Sense” sort of thing where everyone is actually dead, but something is trapping them in the house and won’t let them pass.

More spoilers ahead. I think.

This theory is based on the scene in which a pre-disappearance Dad makes a phone call saying that the little one fell down the stairs and hit his head, but was released without so much as a stitch. Did he really die? Did Dad “take care of” the rest of the family in a panic?

And what about Mom? At one point, the girl distinctly says she doesn’t want to talk about Mom, yet the back of Mom is seen later up in the bedroom when the girl goes looking for her parents. This is the beginning of the end for the little girl.

So what? Are they all dead? Has a demon taken charge of the house? If it’s a demonic presence, I think the demon has overstepped his boundaries. He really should be focusing on the weakest link, not locking down the whole place. That’s kind of like cheating, don’t you think?

It’s not clear who “Skinamarink” is, either. The old-timey name could be connected to the old-timey cartoons that the kids run non-stop in the background, or it could be the name of the force in the home. If so, it really reminds me of the Tiny Tim song, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” that gave “Insidious” such a creepy feel.

Is “Skinamarink” Worth Seeing?

Yeah, I think so. I free-trialed Shudder to see it, and while I’m glad I didn’t drop the money to go to a theatre, viewing the film from a grimy theater and not my comfy bed might have enhanced the disorientation that works so well.

I haven’t read other reviews on this film yet, so this may be in every single one: Encourage filmmakers to try new stuff. It won’t always be mind-blowing, but at least it’s different; it’s low budget and, by necessity, creative; and it might just help to birth the next cinematic horror genius.

I was lucky enough to see “The Blair Witch Project” when it first came out in theaters. It was so cool to experience something fresh and exciting and genuinely scary. That scene at the end, where we finally get to see the guy just standing, rocking slightly, facing the wall? The fear and anticipation had been building for so long by then that it totally landed. It was scary as hell.

Moments of “Skinamarink” land just as well. That sweet, timid and almost-panicked, “Dad?” is something that won’t soon leave my mind. It’s worth it.

Nice to see you again, friends. Hope to be back soon. Until next time!


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