There are one of two things when it comes to horror flicks we have to also grapple with. Some of them rule and some of them suck. I’m not going to be a pretty, flirty reviewer on this because I believe you, my dear audience, deserve a better kind of reviewer.
So here’s my review of Shudder’s new analog horror, Skinimarink… it screams into the void like a half-remembered nightmare. This is a good thing. It’s also not without its hiccups, as if to be drunk on its own juice box. That’s not such a good thing.
Experimental horror is not a revelation these days. Changing the narrative by changing the backdrop has been done in Hausu (1977), Suspiria (1977), and Midsommar (2019), among others. However, upon firing up the flick and being aurally assailed with a static soundtrack (akin to when a record loops and pops after it’s done) and a grindhouse opening credits font, color me intrigued. To be fair, that color isn’t very colorful for the rest of the movie.
We’ve seen the likes of this with Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez’s dual feature Grindhouse, so the stylistic manipulation of the medium isn’t something novel either.
Nonetheless, what we haven’t gotten before are static shots, a view into the void. The lens gives a grainy, almost dream-like aura as if the whole thing’s been filmed with a VHS camera.
It’s just enough to freak yourself out into thinking a face is in the frame. It’s just enough to make yourself doubt reality. It’s just enough within the circumspect of your own life to think evil is real and is coming for you. This movie was that effective to me. On the other hand, I could also make the case that a far more frightening static is the shit you see on your television screen, anticipating Sadako.
It’s a cursed movie, make no mistake. I believe it. It’s a fever dream to instill nightmares… without doing much at all. Its effectiveness was that suspended!
The haunting nature of the lingering still shots, filmed by videotape gives it a very drugged-up feeling as if you’d been taking quaaludes while drinking wine. Don’t ask me how I know that. The audio, in both design and dialogue, when it comes in sounds like a distant memory from a forgotten idea- from crunches on the carpet to the carousel of Max Fleischer cartoons.
As the puzzle pieces of a plot ramp up, we catch glimpses of abuse, neglect, and abject terror through the frozen lens of terrified tots, only wanting to know where Papa is.
The somnambulism in the film holds a special place in my heart. Having suffered from it as a kid, I knew how fucking frightening it was around every angle of every doorway. To not have windows or doors or to imagine there weren’t any when there were none would have killed me.
That being said, this movie is fucked in the most perfect way. It does nothing until it does something. It relies on your childhood fears of waking up in the middle of the night. It’s a movie that preys on you.
Now the other side of the spectrum is… it is a movie that does nothing. Slow burn like a cigarette isn’t a joke. The other side of critics isn’t too favorable for that reason. The bravura of the director/writer on a shoestring budget I’m sure didn’t go unnoticed. Either the detractors weren’t scared or didn’t care and I’m sure the words “pretentious” and “pablum” were pursed on their lips more than any gasp was waiting in their lungs.
Remember, though, the Babadook was a bit of a slow burn, but most are in a concession that it is a masterpiece. Upon a second viewing, I can assure you that this isn’t. Then again, I wouldn’t even put this in the same category outside of the ballpark of horror.
I can give the critics their fair share and look at it with a more critical eye. It, for the most part, is a boring film. It relies on sheer tension-building and the power of persuasion because it’s mainly weaponized you. It makes you want to crawl out of your skin, but only if you’re wanting to. I mean, you could fucking film red paint on the wall drip for a budget and make it scary if the lean from the audience is to feel uneasy. The film is what you take out of it.
As far as the horror canon of where this fits in, I personally think it may have legs and lungs to be a cult classic. Full disclosure, I am not a horror aficionado by any stretch of the imagination, but my declaration stands.
This is cinema. I know that term is a buzzword, but to me, it is art. Horror is a genre rife with artful things and endless possibilities because the main ingredient is to scare- that’s it! You can go super art house or you can go to this. This is inexplicable. It is something that you have to watch with the lights off because it is an experience.
However, be good boys and girls, and take your melatonin and wine, post-viewing as this may leave you sleepless. It will haunt you. It will have its talons into the sinew of your soul and not let go, even when you beg for sweet release. It will stay with you.
That being said, I’ve only pieced together some of the puzzles and through an added viewing, a bit more. I don’t know if mother was the killer, if dad was that harmful, if they are all ghosts (which would be rad), or if it even happened at all. It made me question reality and now taught me to keep on the lights as an adult. A bit hyperbolic, I know.
As for the haters that think the movie relies on a few jump scares- go pound walnuts. Their efficacy was well placed (because it relied on the unknown of when they were to happen.) That’s the whole film’s raison d’etre. You don’t go into a haunted house with expectations of what’s around each corner. It’s the anticipation. It’s the tension, and mind you, “there’s some ghosts in this house.”
My ultimate takeaway is this: for a film with a budget of $15K, it made the very most of the very least. It either had people with sleepless nights or had the other half use it as cinematic Ambien. It set the internet ablaze though, and isn’t that every filmmaker’s dream? Kyle Edward Ball set out to right a few traumas and brought us along for the journey.
Having watched this on my bed with the lights off was no small feat. As a lover of horror films, this literally took my breath away. The only thing I could pray for was the end, which it delivered with a nice superimposing. The fucked up thing is I immediately went for the replay button because I’m a glutton for punishment.
If it is your bag, it is. If it ain’t, it’s in the aether. Post-first viewing, will the movie pay dividends? I doubt it. It’s to be fair a film-going experience with the lights off and alone, sans a warm body to huddle next to. After that, the returns may be diminishing. However, with a dark room, at night with a party of virgin eyes and ears, the experience will be jarring, and isn’t that good for at least one rental?
One thing is for certain: good, bad, or indifferent, I’ll never look at Legos or X-Acto knives in the same fashion again.
I give this film a very solid, but objective 3.5/5 stars.