The sing-songy word of SKINAMARINK comes from a playful nursery rhyme that speaks of loving you in the morning, the afternoon, and even in the evening, underneath the moon. Knowing a person will remain committed to you throughout the day, even in the dark of night, should bring comfort to everyone. But once the shadows actually appear and the loved one vanishes, it becomes harder to recall those feelings of safety and belonging. Director Kyle Ball started his haunting exploration of the dark with his short entitled Heck, but he decided to not contain his terrifying visions to just a mere 30 minutes. With its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival, SKINAMARINK provides a feature-length immersive nightmare that traps the audience in the dark and makes us all scared little children.
Inside a shadowy family home at night, the camera explores each room, but as we travel throughout the house, the transitions do not occur smoothly as if controlled by a person walking from space to space. Nor do we have the perspective of an adult as the camera remains mostly low to the ground with a couple of glances up into corners of the ceilings or walls. The shots also cut quickly from one to the next as we go from room to room, which creates a feeling of surveillance as we see the quiet nighttime setting of the house. But the abrupt jumps in locations also allow the viewer to witness every inch of the house without experiencing any kind of intimacy. Aside from attempting to gaze into the shadows, the camera chooses to focus on a bedside lamp, a ceiling fan, or a door frame; none of the homey touches that would let us get to know the inhabitants.
Taking place in the 1990s, the quality of the footage resembles VHS tapes and creates a very gritty and dingy form of found footage. Our first encounter with one of the family members comes from the scared whispers of one of the two children. We do not see the child but understand that they woke during the night and now feel afraid. The kids call for their father, but no one comes to save them from the darkness.
Earlier in the year, I saw a film called Masking Threshold, which relied heavily on close-ups of everyday objects to create feelings of abjection. SKINAMARINK follows a similar technique where the camera does not look at the characters directly but instead looks at the mundane as a way to create fear. We do not see the children’s faces as they slowly realize their father is gone. Instead, we see the shadows and the now smooth walls completely void of doors or windows. And for an art form that relies so heavily on visuals, this film chooses to offer minimalistic images and instead the atmospheric sounds become the main sensory feature. Disembodied voices and other unsettling sounds occur slightly off-screen, which on more than one occasion made me nervously check to see if someone was standing behind me.
Walking from one room to the next would allow us to map out the interior of the house and get a feeling for the size or at least a basic map of the home but using jarring shots with odd angles leaves the audience completely unsure of their immersive surroundings. The spaces seem endless and at the same time incredibly limiting and claustrophobic. Being well-versed in housebound found footage features such as Paranormal Activity or Host, I kept expecting a ghost or some startling jump scare. SKINAMARINK plays well with this anticipation, making us fear the crawling movements of the camera and the endless darkness.
Most shots begin with the camera pointing at the floor or a corner and we hear some background noise or see some movement. Then the view appears in another room focusing on another angle. However, some shots involve the camera actually moving, and the change from static to motion creates feelings of unease. The smooth gliding gesture of the perspective creates expectancy and discomfort because the uniqueness of the camera movement makes these shots stand out among the numerous unmoving ones.
SKINAMARINK definitely requires a late-night viewing in pitch darkness. The movie so expertly encapsulates the feelings of loneliness, but not just any kind of loneliness: the aloneness only a child can experience when separated from their parents. At 100 minutes, the slow crawling pace through the darkness might prove too long for some viewers, but others will find themselves completely gripped by the experience as the nightmares will pervade even after the last blood-chilling scene.