Not rated, which actively confuses me. It was on Shudder. It is on a streaming service and it is in 2022. You can give me a rating. Okay, I'm not the guy to give this movie a rating, but I can tell you that the entire thing is upsetting. There is some blood. Some horrible things happen to kids, but you don't really see those horrible things happen. There's no language, but knowing that this is from the perspective of children as they encounter a demon and it doesn't go well should be enough to decide that it might be too much for most audiences.
DIRECTOR: Kyle Edward Ball
Okay, first, the cinematographer gets all of the points for this one. All of the good points of the movie come from a very specific eye that makes the movie work. My best way to describe this movie? This is a movie that really works until it doesn't work at all. I think horror movies suffer most from third act problems. If the third act doesn't deliver, then the whole movie kind of gets thrown out. For a lot of Skinamarink, I was thinking that I had yet another great modern classic to be preaching about. I have this book that aesthetically does what Skinamarink does. It's called Discovering Scarfolk and it is perfect. Go out and read it today. It made me giggle so many times. But where Skinamarink fails where Discovering Scarfolk succeeds is that Scarfolk takes its weird aesthetic and adds another component that Skinamarink never really gets to.
There have to be comparisons between Skinamarink and The Blair Witch Project, right? I mean, both of these films took a unique visual element and kept us in the dark about what was meant to scare us (pun intended). It's been so long that I no longer feel comfortable giving a strong take on The Blair Witch Project, but I remember that both movies had third act problems and they almost suffer the same third act problems. Skinamarink works most of the time because it reminds us of how scary just being a child was. The way that this movie is shot, it points out the haunting quality of the mundane at night. The camera would focus for long periods of times on a nightstand as the glow from a television illuminated it. Things that we would stare at, hoping that whatever boogieman wouldn't find us steal the spotlight from any actual characters in the film. It's great at pushing that imagination as far as it could go. We get childhood logic in this movie and that's darned impressive. But the movie exists in the abstract for most of the movie. Is there a demon in the house or is it just the house settling? Is Dad missing or is my childlike brain making mountains out of molehills? That's what's really great about the movie. But at the beginning of the third act, the movie gives us a definitive answer (technically it does that before hand with Kaylee having her mouth removed, but even that comes across as a little weirder than what happens later.) When Kevin is told to stab his own eye out and he does it, we've entered the world of the concrete.
Ball said that the purpose of the movie was to recreate the experience of having a nightmare. The fact that there is no real logic in a nightmare is fun and I think that he manages to achieve his goal of recreating what nightmares are like. But that moment, when Kevin cuts out his own eye, things start happening to him that are meant to be story elements. But the movie tried desperately to return to a moment before the eye was cut out. It actually struggles to get weirder, by having Kevin walk on the ceiling. There's an amount of time that passes. We see the cartoons start to work on a loop. To argue against myself, Ball could be right. As much as I put emphasis on Kevin cutting out his own eye as something more concrete than the rest of the movie, that also could be part of the nightmare that Kevin is having. But I know why that scene is in the movie. Something had to happen. Ball needed the structure of a movie for the audience to stand the impatience of the film. He wanted to go from the mundane to abstract chaos and he timed the film to put that scene right there. Okay, but we also needed answers. Is there a demon? Even if the whole thing is a dream, Dad and Mom are definitely gone and there's a demon that is torturing kids. We know that we won't heard from Kaylee again and that this demon is actively talking to Kevin. But we know nothing about the demon. We don't know what rules he's following. We don't really get to see him. His personality is all over the place. There's nothing the grab onto, despite the fact that we know that there is a demon.
From the point after where Kevin takes his own eye, the movie really could end at any point. There are so many scenes after the eye thing that almost don't need to be in the movie. It's a little bit of Ball trying to rein in the cows after they've left the pen and a little bit of "wouldn't it be cool?" I always kind of have problems with the "Wouldn't it be cool?" manner of filmmaking. I know the problems that David Mamet would have with this movie. There are so many visual moments with the movie that don't really help the movie. I feel bad for Ball in this case because, without a formal narrative, he's almost completely depending on visuals to carry the movie. But there is this sense of diminishing return. The truly haunting moments, which is very Hitchcockian, is the waiting for something to happen. I'll say that Skinamarink handles it better than its peer, Paranormal Activity. But both movies, the waiting for the gun to go off is scarier than the gun actually going off. Also, both movies suffer the wrath of needing a certain run time. At one point, the wait for the gun to go off gets to be a bit boring. Same thing with Paranormal Activity. I have steeled myself for so long that the actual attack is going to be disappointing. There's only so much waiting for something to jump out of the dark at me that I get to a point of begging for it to happen so I can shut the movie off.
The thing is, I really want to like this movie. There's so much that's going right with this movie that it's such a bummer that the main thing is so wrong. This movie is a sneeze and a better writer away from being the movie that I show to people to tell them that horror can get weird. Horror --and this is something that is part of the genre renaissance that we're going through --has the potential to be like sci-fi. Sci-fi is not one thing. Sci-fi has such loose parameters that it can reflect any style or tone. It reflects the thing that we need as an audience. Horror has been more shy to adopt that. I suppose that horror has always been more for the deviants (sorry, horror fans. You tend to not come across as the most healthy of personality types.). But stuff like Skinamarink honestly offers some visual value. A24 has been dominating this field, but even A24 is starting to have a certain look to it that is getting a bit tired. (Sorry, A24. You've been doing amazing work and I want you to keep doing what you do.) I just like the fact that we have a potentially different aesthetic voice out there telling great genre stories. I mean, would you have thought of a movie like Skinamarink? If you don't know what I'm talking about (and I don't blame you! Talking about visuals is hard without having a foundational image), watch the trailer. I thought the trailer was just one part of the movie. No, the entire movie looks like the trailer. Honestly, because the story is kind of weak, I can tell you to watch the trailer and then imagine an hour and 40 minutes of that.
You could do so much with that visual style. It's just that the movie leaned so heavily on the visuals that it didn't really put the time and effort into rewrites. It's very scary when it is scary. I don't want to put down the parts that work. There's a scene where Kaylee investigates her parents' bedroom and that entire sequence is haunting and upsetting. I love it. It's very scary. But that's not a story and I'll even go as far as to say that's not character. Kaylee and Kevin, despite being the only real characters in this movie, don't really have much of a character. They are the innocent archetype and that's it. Sure, the reason why they are is that Ball is stressing that they are avatars for our childhood selves. But you need to give us something besides the visual. The visual is so great and the rest of the movie is too underbaked. That's actually perfect. This is The Great British Baking Show and someone turned in a visual marvel in the showstopper. Paul cuts into the cake and it's gooey and inedible. That's the most bummer moments on the show. We want the gorgeous cake that someone put a lot of effort into to be the one that wins. But if you can't eat the cake, it's not a cake anymore. In fact, with Skinamarink, it feels more like an hour and 40 minute music video because the substance just isn't there. It's all about visuals and mood and sometimes that mood is boring.
I hate crapping on this one, guys. I don't absolutely hate it. It's just that when you see something's amazing potential and it doesn't achieve it, it's heartbreaking. This movie got so close. It got right up to that line and then held back. I was so into it for a good hour at least and then the last forty minutes happened and I got unbelievably bored. When a movie is that impressive and you can't wait for it to end, something went really wrong.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.