As soon as I saw an article calling Skinamarink “this generation’s Blair Witch Project“, I said to myself, oh-ho. Because that, as the self-appointed premier Blair Witch scholar, sounds like a challenge.
I understand where the comparisons have come from, given that Skinamarink, Kyle Edward Hall’s directorial debut, gained a lot of traction online, much like The Blair Witch Project did back in the nineties, though Skinamarink’s virality unfortunately came from pirating on TikTok and YouTube.
But, to be quite honest, I don’t think Skinamarink quite lives up to the hype.
And let me be entirely fair and say that I do think Kyle Edward Hall has made a very interesting movie here. At least for the first forty minutes. Skinamarink’s quality, for me, comes in the form of that first act, and God, it’s good. It’s an incredible exercise in the subversion of cinematic language, as Hall replaces a roaming camera and a solid leading character with these long, unsettling static shots and glimpses of the two child leads as they wander the corridors of their home as parts of it flicker in and out of existence. The VHS-styled cinematography makes those long takes shimmer with static in the darkness, and before you know it, you’re squinting at every corridor, staring into every corner, for some explanation.
Imagine that feeling you got as a child, standing in your bedroom door in the middle of the night, and trying to work out how many steps it will take in the dark to get you to the bathroom: that curdled, curling fear in your guts, a strange and unspeakable unsettlement that lives in the years before you can quite give it a name. That’s the feeling Skinamarink creates at it’s best, in those first forty minutes, with a fantastic restraint and use of childhood imagery to underline the cold horror at play here. Hall uses old Max Fleischer cartoons playing on a staticky TV as most of the lighting and sound design, and that contrast of the childish and the horrible is not new, but it is effective.
In fact, the first forty minutes are so good I almost wish this movie had just settled for being an excellent short film instead of it’s ungainly one hundred minute runtime. But what follows is frustratingly evasive, to the point where it felt, to me, almost pointless. The film shifts from two perspectives to just one, and removes the sweet and believable sibling relationship that helps ground the first act in something real. For all the restraint and careful atmosphere building in the first chunk, it felt to me as though Skinamarink devolved into spooky voices in the darkness, toys jumping out of the static, and the natural discomfort of tiny children doing horrible things. In the last forty minutes or so, it’s got the feel of the kind of YouTube video that would be uploaded as part of a low-effort ARG; strange images, weird noises, none of it particularly adding up to anything very compelling.
I’m still glad that a movie like this, so abstract and thoughtful and restrained, has become such a hit – with blockbuster horror taking over the genre, seeing an indie break through in the way Skinamarink has is a treat, and a reminder of how powerful word-of-mouth can be for the genre. But, ultimately, an overlong runtime and a lack of satisfying conclusion, climax, or even enough pieces to put together one of your own brings it down. I’m looking forward to seeing what Hall does next, because this debut does show some excellent atmosphere-building and clever production, but I don’t think Skinamarink is the best we’ll see of his work.
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By Lou MacGregor
(header image via The Guardian)
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