Kyle Edward Paul’s $15,000 lip-smacking horror hit about two kids trapped alone in their home uses his small budget to his advantage.
Imagine if someone made an entire movie out of the latest take on “The Blair Witch Project.” Or the creepypasta remake of “Home Alone” steeped in the indescribable fear a young child would feel if the rest of their family abandoned them in the middle of the night. Or a slow motion cinema version of “Paranormal Activity” that did away with the jump scares of pervasive horror, preserving the unvarnished camera work of a found footage movie while flipping the formula to show a local property from a POV at home.
A small-budget phenomenon that capitalized on a sudden leak into the kind of hype an indie movie can’t buy, Kyle Edward Paul seriously worried”SkinamarinkIt may be too beholden to horror trends on YouTube to feel like a unique genre-changer, but this is still a genre movie sticking to its own weird language, best translated by references to more familiar works. Misguided rather than a fully cooked meal — a nebulous 100-minute nightmare that proves its own concept at the cost of developing it further — this undiminished sense of experimentation also helps illustrate how vital horror films can be at a time when the rest of the film world is too afraid to try anything. new.
1995’s “Skinamarink” is about two young children—4-year-old Kyle and his 6-year-old sister Kylie—who wake up in the middle of the night to find that their father is missing, and their mother is…not there either (“I don’t want to talk about Mom,” says Kylie), and strange noises come from the second floor of the nondescript Edmonton home they live in. Which makes things even more unsettling: all the doors and windows to the outside world are gone, the TV is set to a serious loop of public domain cartoons from the 1930s (which doubles as the film’s primary light source), and the toilet continues to glitch out of existence (if If the video game “Control” is made into a movie, Ball should be the first call to the producers). There’s a naked Barbie doll stuck to the ceiling, and sometimes a strange voice calls Kylie to follow her upstairs to her parents’ room. want to play.
This may sound like a standard horror premise, but cinema has always been more a question of “how” than “what,” and the opening shots of “Skinamarink” immediately make it clear that Kyle and Kaylee’s home is a long way from Blumhouse. Any clarity beyond that is hard to come by: Shot on a Sony FX6 and “stated within an inch of its life,” Ball’s $16,000 debut is a sea of fluff so dark and so full of secrets that the texture of the image itself becomes the film’s greatest tension and theme. basic. Each shot is a veritable sandstorm of digital grain, soundtracking to static analog audio and spinning on itself until the static backgrounds flash in Rorschach-like terror and something as banal as the dark spot on the bedroom wall begins to look like a direct portal to hell; The more strabismus, the greater your fears.
This is a great trick in a movie that could use another movie. While Skinamarink is somewhat disingenuous as it lulls viewers into a restless stupor – the ball’s esoteric design and go-nowhere quickness lowers your guard long enough for it to slip a few sly jerks through your defenses – the film’s sleepy rhythms quickly become as steady as its backdrops, long expanses of Bare skies separate the spine-tingling clusters. A certain amount of boredom works in the film’s favor, but Kyle and Kylie’s tacit disregard turns into something more than sad when he’s left alone for several minutes on end. It’s heartbreaking to watch a 4-year-old try to make sense of his Twilight-zone-like abandonment (especially because “Skinamarink” lets his scared and confused toddlers act like scared and confused toddlers), that pain starts to fade as Kyle and Kaylee feel like they’re carefully arranged like Toy cubes that someone – or something – has scattered all over the floor.
Of course, it is not for nothing that children are framed indirectly. Like ghosts hunted between realms, they have yet to be fully seen. Instead, the ball cuts them to a random series of isolated limbs, with the typical shot framing Kyle’s legs from the knees down as he stands on the edge of the room in conversation with some unseen force. Likewise, the children’s whispering dialogue is disembodied, with subtitles that infuse a sense of supernatural menace to even the simplest lines (not that “Skinamarink” kind). “We should be quiet,” Kylie said giggling after seeing a chair on the ceiling, the calmness in her voice reflecting a mix of fear and “Maybe that’s exactly how things are?” The confusion that children feel every time their parents do something they don’t understand.
With Kyle and Kaylee offscreen for much of the movie (much of it framed in a pillow shot climax), it’s only a matter of time before the camera seems to embrace the kids’ POV and the haunted corners of their parents’ house start to feel like provocations of the kind we’ve all come to expect in the dark. There’s certainly a bit of lore here, as well as some late-game visuals that would make the Blair Witch – and/or Panos Cosmatos – proud, but “Skinamarink” is ultimately less effective as a grounded horror movie about kids facing the unseen. Visible is more of a supernatural force than a supernatural horror movie about children facing the real world as well as they alone can. It’s the opposite of “extreme terror,” whatever that means. It’s two feet above the carpet and the deadening sensitivity to metaphor. It’s the “back rooms” change of being a 4-year-old, with the feeling something was terribly wrong, and trying to convince yourself you’re still safe under the sheets in the dim light of the TV’s glow. It feels like some homes never let you escape.
IFC Midnight will release “Skinamarink” in theaters on Friday, January 13th. It will be available to stream on goosebumps On the 2nd of February.