Review: ‘Skinamarink’ (a-dink-a-dink)

A few words of caution: if any glimpse of the imagery or some social media post has intrigued you to want to see this filmed nightmare, stop here. Any extra information may skew the experience, but if you’ve watched it already or are still on the fence, read on. While spoilers will be avoided, discussing the tone and story lessens the impact; you may know too much already, and it’s only unique once.

In 1995, little Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetrealt) are awakened by the muddled voice of their father (Ross Paul) and sounds of him moving about their house until they don’t hear him anymore. Going back to bed and awakening later, Kevin notices something has changed: doors and windows have been replaced with empty walls as if they had never existed, and other things have gone missing as well. As lights around the house begin to fail and the only thing pushing away the darkness is the glow from a television playing ages-old cartoons, someone or something beckons from the shadows… seeking new things to add to its collection.

Writer/director Kyle Edward Ball is mostly known via his YouTube channel “Bitesized Nightmares,” a repository of short films suggested by his socially engaged audience. A particular dream mentioned from many followers was one from childhood, aware they’re trapped in a familiar place no longer safe. With $15,000 dollars and filming in his childhood home thanks to his accommodating parents, Skinamarink was leaked from a server hack and became a whispered online sensation in the tradition of The Blair Witch Project and creepypasta upvoting. Pushed into theaters nine months early to capitalize on the free publicity and before the hack could further damage a planned release by Shudder, is the experience as unnerving as suggested, or is it merely Eye Strain, the movie?

Imagine someone making a 100-minute version of the cursed videotape from The Ring or the opening credits to any season of “American Horror Story” (always better than the actual show). Every scene purposefully lingers Stanley-Kubrick-levels of too long, challenging the viewer not to blink or risk missing something important; perceived static images have been layered with noise and scratches like old film, tricking the brain into trying to spot Predator-like stealth movement or perceive the contours of a frightening face. Most often, there’s nothing — until there is, and then there isn’t. There’s a nihilistic narrative herein for those able to tough it out, but it’s essentially a limited third-person omniscient childhood nightmare of being trapped in a familiar setting, and no trusted adults can save you from the darkness.

Unfortunately, if this isn’t something you can relate to, it’s also an exercise in tedium. The suggested demon or monster mirrors the soulless abductors from the film Dark City, including their unique powers. Sounding appropriately pretentious yet childlike, the title refers to a song from the 1910 Charles Dillingham Broadway musical “The Echo,” all but forgotten save for the nursery-rhyme-friendly jingle that pops up in children’s shows every decade or so. Even without knowing it’s name, the tune should be familiar. Since the filmmaker has precise digital control over any perceived randomness, shunning the disposable look of videotape lends a more timeless feel. Choosing the more expensive look of widescreen film suggests it’s also prone to fading away due to neglect, perhaps a metaphor for the story itself.

The end result falls short of the lofty goals it sets out for itself, but the achievement in production is noteworthy. What could have ended in disaster financially and ruined a potential career has instead created the kind of underground attention that indie studios like A24 are after: fresh filmmakers with unique perspectives willing to take big narrative chances. As for the film itself, what went into it isn’t as effective as what came out of it, but for those it touches, they’ll be sleeping with all the lights on for the next few nights.

Skinamarink isn’t rated for creepy imagery, voices kids shouldn’t listen to, and random Legos proving ineffective to deter shadow monsters.

Two skull recommendation out of four

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