Skinamarink (2022)

JANUARY 17, 2023

GENRE: HAUNTED HOUSE, WEIRD
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

We’ve all been duped with a misleading trailer once or twice, but in the case of Skinamarink, I’m hard-pressed to think of a MORE honest promotion for a horror movie. Outside of the oft-repeated “in this house” not appearing in the film (I can’t tell if the trailer voice is meant to be, you know, TRAILER VOICE or if it’s trying to pass off the line as dialogue), the vibe of the trailer is exactly what the film is, albeit for 100 minutes instead of two. So if you watched the trailer and thought "OK, this is more of a teaser, the real movie can't be like that, right?" - you're not gonna be happy if you buy a ticket.

“But the trailer is just a bunch of random shots of ceilings and stuff?” you might be thinking, and yes, that is correct and that is also what the film offers for its entire runtime. There is some dialogue, but it’s delivered by off-screen characters and often so hard to hear that the film provides subtitles for the majority of it. There are four people in the cast (two kids and two adults) but they could have been sitting right next to me in the theater and I wouldn’t have recognized them, as we never see any of them that clearly. The film’s real star is a nightlight that appears several times (occasionally knocked around by the ghostly presence) or maybe the orange Lego brick separator that shouldn’t have existed in the film’s 1995 setting (I like to think it was another demonstration of the ghost’s powers, myself).

The plot, which is made more clear in the two line description on IMDb than from the film itself, is about a kid who sleepwalks and hurts himself a bit, waking up the other family members in the process. Over the course of the evening, their house begins to change – the windows and doors disappear, their toys start collecting themselves into a massive pile, and then the parents also disappear, leaving the two kids (4 and 6ish) alone with whatever supernatural force they’re being terrified with. It seems to all unfold over one night, but a late on-screen title suggests it's going for much longer, though without any exteriors (or characters, really) I guess it doesn't matter much.

Now, that probably sounds like a pretty straightforward haunted house movie; a sort of “Poltergeist but from the kids’ POV” effort that maybe would make good gateway horror for your own young’ns. But no: as I said, most of that plot is hard to suss out from what you see on screen, which is mostly hallways and floors and assorted toys. The camera rarely moves, the characters appear even less, and the lo-fi approach (super grainy, not always clear VHS type imagery, albeit presented in a 2.40 image) makes it hard to tell what you’re actually looking at on several occasions. Sometimes this is used for an effective scare, like a seemingly empty shot of a wall (or something similarly featureless) that slowly reveals the little girl (I think?) standing there, but most of the time it gives you that inclination to dart your eyes around the frame, looking for something that might appear in a corner or from behind whatever random object you’re looking at.

If you’ve gotten this far you can probably figure out if this is a “for you” movie or not, and alas I fall into the “not” category. I didn’t hate it or anything, and I admired the experimental nature of the effort (doubly so when you consider it was playing in multiplexes, with a trailer for Ant-Man 3 beforehand), but at 100 minutes I got pretty restless waiting for it to switch gears (spoiler: it never does). The problem is, for me, that the movie is basically – occasionally even effectively! – trying to depict the sensation of a bad nightmare you probably had as a kid, in an attempt to get under your skin and creep you out, and I am simply not easily susceptible to such things. I heard that the best way to watch the movie was all alone in your house in the middle of the night with all the lights off, and I don’t doubt it, but I’ve seen a number of films I found scary in theaters (including Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, both of which have been namechecked in the film’s hype), so it should more or less work on the big screen.

In fact, one of the things I was most taken by during my experience was how quiet the crowd was, and it was nearly sold out. A couple people walked out, unsurprisingly (I had to laugh when two girls finally gave up with maybe ten minutes left, something I saw happen at Inland Empire, which was a film I had already mentally compared it to), but no one expressed their frustration until the lights came up at the end, or checked their phones or whatever (at least from where I could see, about dead center of the auditorium). If anything, everyone seemed to be trying really hard to maintain the same sort of quiet intensity the film offered – at one point someone attempted to recline their seat, and the squeaking sound from the leather parts rubbing together had them stop almost instantly. The only other time I’ve seen that sort of commitment from an audience around here was during the first Quiet Place, and considering this was an AMC, with people laughing and cheering for the Nicole Kidman ad, I must say I was practically stunned at how well behaved everyone was and how they all seemed to be aware that they shouldn’t be disrupting the other patrons. More like this, please!

At any rate, I hope those who enjoy this sort of thing (though I can’t really think of anything else to compare it to) get a chance to see it in the most ideal circumstances possible. And again, I’m glad to see a multiplex take a chance on something like this at a time when even family-friendly Disney stuff is tanking because people are so accustomed to staying at home unless it’s a predetermined blockbuster like Marvel or Avatar. But I slept just fine when I got home (except for when my idiot cat woke me up because it managed to stick its head through the handle hole of a plastic bag, then proceeded to run around the house knocking into everything trying to get it off), sans nightmares or fears that my windows would disappear. Making it an experiment that failed, at least for me. But an interesting experience all the same, and if it's not playing near you, it will be on Shudder soon, as they are the co-distributors (which saddens me as it makes it much less likely that there will be a Blu-ray with commentary, as I'd be interested in listening to one if provided). And yes, SOON, so please don't impatiently steal it.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. I got the chance to see it at a horror fest in Torino and it totally disappointed me. The idea is very interesting but the execution is dull, boring, repetitive and it goes on for too long without any real excitement. Thumbs up for the Hasbro phone, though, that surely gave me the creeps.

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