Photo courtesy of Shudder

The word “skinamarink” is a nonsense word, a lyric in a children’s song we’ve all mostly forgotten. It’s this feeling of nostalgia and meaninglessness that filmmaker Kyle Edward Ball attempts to twist with horror in his experimental found footage film Skinamarink (2023).

The plot surrounds two children waking in the middle of the night to find the doors and windows of their house gone and their father missing. It seems like a simple premise for people to get so worked up about online.

A quick Google search brings up highly contentious and polarized reviews. Rotten Tomatoes certifies it fresh at 70%, yet IMDb ranks it just five out of 10 and horror platform Shudder gives it a little over three out of five. Google’s reviews offer a dismal two stars, with overwhelmingly negative reviews. So what really is Skinamarink, and why do people love or hate it?

Skinamarink is experimental, and therefore naturally polarizing to me. The film contains nearly no actors on screen; the cinematography is composed of dark, grainy shots aimed at doors, ceilings, corners and hallways. The uniting feature of the film is its only consistent source of light: a television playing old rubber-hose style cartoons on repeat.

The film is definitely a bit slow compared to most blockbuster horrors. The majority of shots don’t have much to offer visually, since the camera is typically aimed just out of view of any action or movement. These visual limitations likely have something to do with the film’s minuscule production budget of just $15,000; for reference, the average movie costs anywhere from $50 million to $100 million in production costs, with a low-ball budget closer to $30 million.

But the film makes up for these deficiencies with ambient sound, haunting audio and by providing just enough information to intrigue and invoke fear without giving away too much.

Skinamarink gets to the root of just about every childhood fear: the unknown. By limiting viewers’ knowledge of exactly what is happening, the tension is elevated far beyond what it would have been if the shots captured all the action.

The film falls under the category of analog horror, a subgenre of found footage horror popularized by YouTube. Analog horror typically features old-school technology, grainy graphics, pre-existing old media clips, static or video and audio distortion. Most importantly, the target of analog horror isn’t a specific character, but rather, the viewer, immersing them and forcing them to participate in the horror’s world, walking when a character walks or seeing through a character’s eyes.

Skinamarink fits this category perfectly. The film targets that unique childhood fear of the dark and what lies within, as well as the feeling of helplessness that goes along with it. The beauty of Skinamarink lies in what it doesn’t tell the viewer; it provides a skeleton of information, and the brain fills in the gaps. Depending on how people think, the human brain could become their worst enemy. Hardly any shot in the film is directly violent or scary; you simply make assumptions or worry about what is happening just out of shot.

Do I think Skinamarink is a cinematic masterpiece? Certainly not. It’s an experimental film, and experimental films typically serve to try out new cinematic techniques rather than to create the greatest film of all time. Its pacing could use some work  – an hour and 40 minute runtime seems excessive given its limitations.

However, its TikTok and social media hype is well deserved. As a fan of found footage horror myself, I found this evoked the same feeling as The Backrooms on YouTube or other analog horror series.

For an independent film, Skinamarink certainly impresses, unsettles and creeps out.