review by Diablo Joe
Kyle Edward Ball’s unexpected breakout nightmare horror “Skinamarink” is unquestionably the most polarizing horror film in quite a while. It’s to be expected of a film that comes from so personal a vision, utterly independent of the movies that have proceeded it.
Its base story is that of two young children, Kevin and Kaylee, who discover their father has disappeared, along with all the doors and windows in their home. That is the nutshell brief, but Ball makes “Skinamarink” about much more. And the director is not afraid to leave much, if not the majority of the film, up to the interpretation of its audience. But he is also unafraid of alienating much of his audience as well.
It’s a bold approach for any artist, let alone a first-time feature filmmaker.
The film’s detractors have made much ado of “Skinamarink’s” almost inert pacing and prolonged, murky focuses on ceilings, corners, etc. This is, without a doubt, an experimental film in the truest sense. Like Luis Buñuel, Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Hollis Frampton, and most well-known, David Lynch, Ball is creating his own voice, and it is indeed a narrative one.
“Skinamarink” is told from the children’s perspective, notably—almost exclusively— Kevin’s. And the dark, underexposed cinematography emulates a nighttime world of a four-year-old wandering through the house. Our eyes seem to adjust to the blackness as Kevin’s might. The extremes of perspective, high and low angles, are a child's viewpoints, either looking up or playing on the ground. For viewers able to succumb to the journey, “Skinamarink” draws you in and immerses you in this world.
Likewise, the pace becomes almost meditative. The audience I saw it with was possibly the quietest I have ever experienced. It was almost as if they were living in fear of disturbing the milieu. No one spoke, snickered, or made a peep, and you could imagine a collective breathing pattern taking place. Even following the film’s most frightening moments, people never made that nervous chuckle to assure themselves of their safety. Perhaps no one felt safe?
Much of what gets described as “experimental” in art, and especially film, are works that are either self-indulgent or an excuse for random strangeness for its own sake. That is not the case here. First, Ball knows the rules of film and breaks them with intent and purpose, and his compositions and editing choices are never random but carefully decided upon and enacted. His use of sound, particularly regarding the film’s minimal dialogue, is equally confident. There are no accidents in view.
Like many emergent works of art that startlingly challenged the status quo— Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” Larry Clark’s “Kids,” the comedy of Lenny Bruce, Bob Dylan going electric, the photography of Andres Serrano—Kyle Edward Ball’s “Skinamarink” may provoke anger, derision, or disgust. It is a litmus test on its own terms, with no right or wrong in a viewer’s judgment. But I defy anyone to walk out of the film without a strong opinion of some sort. Apathy is NOT an option.
That such a unique film has been made and distributed with so much attention is purely audacious. I cannot wait to see what Ball does next. I expect it to be very different but just as personal. I also hope this inspires and gives license and opportunity for other strong, original artistic voices. Not to create in the same mold or emulation of Ball’s film, but, much as seeing the Sex Pistols drove Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley to form the Buzzcocks, something propelled by the same urgency and need.
For now, “Skinamarink” is a film that will haunt my mind for a long time.
This devil of a reviewer gives “Skinamarink” 4.5 out of 5 imps.