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Skinamarink review – childhood fears and bogeyman resurface in viral lo-fi horror | Film

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This experimental lo-fi horror debut became a mini viral sensation last year after accidentally being leaked online. Terrorised TikTok users called it “the scariest film ever made”; critics reached for comparisons with The Blair Witch Project and David Lynch’s Eraserhead. I have to admit to being underwowed, finding Skinamarink a little undeserving of its newly acquired cult status.

That said, there is without a doubt something uncanny, almost seance-like, in the way Canadian film-maker Kyle Edward Ball evokes childhood fear of the dark. That primal terror of being little and waking up in the middle of the night, your imagination playing tricks on you, turning the hallway to mum and dad’s room into a scary no man’s land where monsters lurk.

The film is set in 1995, presumably so that Ball and his cinematographer Jamie McRae can give it a creepy analogue vibe, shooting in grainy night-time vision. Ball made the film for $15,000 in his childhood home; it’s set in a house where four-year-old Kevin (Lucas Paul) and his big sister Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) wake up to find that their parents have vanished. Seen through the kids’ eyes in the dark, the house looks alive. The windows seem to be disappearing, turning into terrifying black chasms of nothingness; the banisters loom and jut at scary angles.

These images may jolt you back to childhood. But there are a lot of them, accompanied by breathy lisping lines whispered by the kids, such as: “I can’t fall asleep with the lights on.” It’s atmospheric and becomes more sinister still with the arrival of a bogeyman. “Kaylee didn’t do what she was told,” he growls menacingly. “So I took her mouth away.” Is he an intruder or, more upsettingly, their dad? At this point we get a haunting look at Kaylee. Otherwise, we don’t see the kids’ faces – just the occasional pyjama-d leg scampering by.

Skinamarink has an interesting origin story. Ball started out with a YouTube channel, where he collected nightmares that people shared in the comments box, which he then turned into short films. The inspiration for Skinamarink was a recurring bad dream – different people describing the same dream. What results is an impressive feat of technical accomplishment, but pretty repetitive. I wasn’t convinced it had enough ideas to stretch beyond a 10-minute short. By the end I was more bored than frightened.

Skinamarink is available on 2 February on Shudder.


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