‘Skinamarink’ Review: Waking Up in the Dark of a Canadian Nightmare

The horror film is shockingly simple, sparse in design and concept, but opens the viewer up to the fear of the unknown.


My family sometimes talks about the hard-to-define, slippery “Canadianness” that permeates the nation’s art. All of us were born there, and we speak of recognizing a certain brutal relentlessness that threads through the country’s music, cinema, literature, and even comedy. 

We posit that this willingness to really commit to a bit, an idea, a feeling, maybe comes from the particular need to use your imagination to entertain yourself through Canada’s endless, dark winter. You do things like have really long bits with your little sister. You do things like lay on your back and stare at the corners of your ceiling and imagine things. You do things like write scary stories.

It’s a little out there, but maybe there’s something about long winters and the need to kill time and sit with your own brain that connects the unbreakable stony affectation of Nathan Fielder’s cringeworthy comedic work, David Cronenberg’s nasty, fleshy horror films, Marian Engel’s bestial love story about a woman and a bear, and most recently, Kyle Edward Ball’s horrific Skinamarink. Those that are forced to entertain themselves indoors for a long stretch of time are maybe bound to have more patience for a singular concept. And if those concepts have the tendency to turn into something that makes people laugh or freak them the fuck out, maybe that part’s just human nature. 

It’s a little fanciful of a hypothesis, maybe. But it feels reflected in so many senses in Skinamarink. 

Skinamarink is shockingly simple in all senses — sparse in design and concept. Two little kids are stuck in a house, without their parents (and eventually without doors, windows, lights, or a toilet), but with something else. Something seemingly determined to fuck with them and scare them. 

The film is essentially a collection of darkened shots of a suburban Edmonton house — blackened shots of a doorway or staircase, or images of a cold overhead light. 

Skinamarink feels like waking up in the dark at a sleepover, it feels like how I hated the basement in my first house when I was seven years old, it feels like how I still avert my eyes from a mirror in a dark room so I don’t look at my own face for too long lest it play tricks on me. 

Ball states that the idea for the film came from one of the most common nightmares he heard about while working on his YouTube channel, Bitesized Nightmares, in which he cinematically recreates people’s bad dreams. In short, the concept he was sent most often was essentially, “I’m in my house, my parents are missing, and there’s a monster.” 

There is nothing flowery or complex about the way Skinamarink chooses to scare you. It trusts you to open yourself up to the fear of the dark, to your fear of the unknown. 

Skinamarink knows that the scariest possible experience is one created in your own mind. It knows that we’re scared of a dark hallway, that we don’t really want to look under the bed — it doesn’t really matter if anything is there or not once the fear has sufficiently crept in. 

Skinamarink knows we fear the unknown. Actually, Skinamarink knows we even fear the known if it’s even slightly distorted. “What’s your name? What’s your name?” the little boy calls softly to the demon in the final shot of Skinamarink. We’re looking at a human face that’s just darkened and slightly out of view. I think. I don’t like looking at it. I know what it is, but I don’t like how it doesn’t look right. 

Skinamarink knows you’ll fill in the gaps, probably more effectively than it could itself. “Stick the knife in your eye,” the demon whispers into the darkened room, and then we see nothing, but there’s blood on the cabinets and sobbing later. Maybe it happened, or maybe it didn’t. So we’re in the dark, and we’ve imagined some poor little boy digging a knife into his eye, and we aren’t so sure if that’s happened, and it’s hard to decide which of those aspects are worse. 

You don’t have to let Skinamarink scare you. Lots of people find it silly or boring. Skinamarink requires that you open yourself up to it. It requires that you let your imagination let itself be overactive. Don’t check your phone, or look away. Sit with the shot of the same corner of the same ceiling again and think about being five or six or seven — doesn’t it feel like something’s different about the image this time? Is there something there? Or are you making it up? 

I get so riled up at points that I wish Skinamarink would do the scaring for me —my own brain lets itself run way wilder than anything any movie could visually provide. It feels special to be trusted with that process, to have a film ask you to step into it like that. 

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