Writer/director Kyle Edward Ball’s horror philosophy is deceptively simple: “Scary fades, creepy is forever.”
“Creepy is an intangible thing,” he explained to Jezebel during a recent Zoom. “Sometimes if something scares us, we can’t even really say why, it just does.” Although it’s Ball’s first time directing, he already knows what it means to get under people’s skin – his haunted house horror film skinamarink has the kind of virality that’s rare for a small indie film and even rarer for experimental cinema. A moving blur of domestic terror that comes in the form of hypnotic, often static shots (seemingly mundane… until they aren’t), skinamarink is an experience that is difficult to describe, although the trailer sums up the overall feeling very well:
It’s been busy since it debuted at the Fantasia Film Festival in July skinamarink has gotten louder and louder, like the hiss of a detuned TV digging deeper into your brain every minute it’s on. The white noise started roaring in November when the film was leaked on torrent sites and more people were exposed to it. “skinamarink are 100 minutes of pure terror,” was the title a typical Reddit post. The praise was so lavish that some wondered if the film “artificial grass‘ – that is, marketed via reviews and comments attributed to laypeople but actually written by people associated with the film. Ball denied this, saying that his pleas for potential viewers not to stream the film and wait for its release were sincere, not underhanded, attempts to disgrace Streisand the film. (For the record, Jezebel found that many of the early reviews on Reddit came from longstanding accounts.)
The praise has only blossomed with that New York Times Naming the Movie a The Critic’s Choice and Jezebel’s sister site, the AV Club, rates it an A, To write: “We still have a long way to go in 2023, but skinamarink is already a top contender for scariest movie of the year.” But the movie is divisive. It really clicks for some – a letterboxed user put it that way: “You know, when it’s dark and you think the pile of clothes in the corner of your room is a person? That’s how this whole movie feels. Damn scary.” Im words of another: “Did everyone else just see grainy Lego clips, or did I see the wrong thing?” This is no doubt due to the film’s experimental nature. It is atmospherically strong and lingers on walls in close-ups where little or nothing is happening. We only get a vague idea of what’s going on – two young children are alone in their TV-lit house… until it is revealed they are not and an increasingly sophisticated demonic entity makes itself felt. We barely see the characters’ faces and are practically floating around in context.
It’s all intentional, as Ball deliberately plays with the primal fear of the unknown. The writer/director said he made up backstories for the absent (…or are they?) parents, but he won’t share what they are. “I’m only going to hint at what it is because I want the viewer to make up their own minds. I want to admit that audiences have brains and can be imaginative and put the pieces together. I like it when movies don’t always tell us 100 percent what’s going on and let us get into our own heads.” He claims his story is linear, with a stimulating incident, a rising plot, a climax, and a descending plot, however, acknowledges this skinamarink, “There are secrets for me.”
Still, he said, “If people pay attention, they’ll see that it’s basically a Hansel and Gretel story.”
Since 2017, Ball has been uploading short films with crowdsourcing concepts to be Biting nightmares YouTube account. The almost 30 min Deviluploaded in July 2020, was intended as a proof of concept for a longer feature – it laid the groundwork for it skinamarink and is formally similar. Ball confirmed this Devil “definitely not blown up” and became just a “small” online film festival (Fantasia, which premiered skinamarinkdeclined Devil), possibly due to its 30-minute running time, which is long for a short but well under feature length. He nonetheless fleshed it out into a full feature “because I loved the finished product that I made.”
skinamarink is not only boldly experimental – it prides itself on it. “There has long been a notion that experimental cinema is dead, and I don’t think it is. I think it just went to YouTube,” Ball said. “I wanted to see if I could bring experimental cinema from YouTube back to the cinema.” Its title is derived from the song “Skidamarink” (aka “Skid-dy-mer -rink-adink-aboomp” aka “Skiddy-Mer-Rink-A-Doo”), which Ball was surprised to hear Cat on a hot tin roofhe assumed it came from the Canadian trio Sharon, Lois & Bram, who popularized it in their ’80s children’s program The Elephant Show. “I researched it and saw that it actually came from the reunification [20th] Century, and the word stuck in my head,” Ball said. “And I thought that would be an excellent working title for the film because it’s sentimental — feels personal to me, but personal to others. It’s reminiscent of childhood. It’s nonsensical.” The working title eventually stuck.
With a budget of about $15,000, Ball shot skinamarink over a week in August 2021 at his childhood home in Edmonton, Canada. He said that his script was precise in assigning shots: “There are places in the script where it literally says, ‘We’re going to take this shot of a hallway for 45 seconds.'” But he acted more during the cut with the timing , composes his film like a song and responds to his gut feeling. “It was more of an organic thing,” he said of his process. His original cut was 20 minutes longer, meaning the film ran a full two hours, but after receiving feedback on its length, he started chomping at it. “It was just about trimming the song so it sounded good.”
The open end skinamarink works like a Rorschach test, and one of the loudest complaints from its critics is that it’s too slow. “Maybe it’s a bit too slow,” Ball admitted. “Maybe I could have cut it a few minutes, but it’s subjective, isn’t it? For example, I showed my friend the version that was 20 minutes longer and he thought I didn’t have to cut a single second. Well, I don’t know.”
Regardless, there is a very visible segment of the audience that found the film compelling. Ball said that with Fantasia he “just watched the audience” take it in raptures. He was surprised when about 80 percent of the viewers stayed for the questions and answers since the film was shown around 10pm and when it ended it was around midnight. “I’m like, ‘Oh my God, aren’t you tired? I am.'”
Ball seems genuinely touched by the reaction. “It feels like my dreams are coming true, but they look vaguely different than you’d expect,” he said. Luckily for him, not all dreams are nightmares.
Skinamarink is in theaters now and will stream on Shudder later this year.
https://jezebel.com/skinamarink-horror-movie-interview-1849982410 Skinamarink Experimental Horror Movie Interview with the director