On Kyle Edward Ball’s Skinamarink (2022)

By Jacqueline Valencia

A little boy and his older sister find out that they are left alone at home. The adults have disappeared and so have the doors and windows. The only constant they have are their toys and a tv playing old cartoons. I will leave it at that. I’m not scared too easily and it’s been a decade or so since a horror film made me uneasy that I had trouble shaking it off. Kyle Edward Ball‘s Skinamarink did, but it wasn’t just the dread it created in me, but how it took me there.

Chris Marker created a wonderful science fiction short film called, La Jetée, where the protagonist time travels through a photo montage. Stan Brakhage made Mothlight, a film that used found leaves, insects, and garbage and taped them together to fashion film strips (my thoughts on that film here: https://thesegirlsonfilm.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/on-stan-brakhages-mothlight-1963/) . I’ve always felt that Brakhage’s film depicts both a story of nature’s decay in relation to feeling unstable and depressed. It’s in interpretation and intention that experimental film plays wildly and markedly. Both Marker and Brakhage ingeniously weaved compelling stories using innovative methods that are not easily digested by mass consumers nowadays. I think something a little closer to Skinamarink’s methods though is Maya Deren‘s Meshes Of The Afternoon. The feelings of fear and dread are palpable in both Ball and Deren’s films which utilize quick and extended perspectives to move the stories forward. I’m only mentioning these movies because it’s been a long time since someone has attempted to film an arthouse horror like Skinamarink and succeeded in both its execution and release. It also provides many who may not be familiar with avant-garde film as a wonderful way to stylize the genre.

As a big fan of endurance films, the extended views of empty spaces interweaved with nostalgia in Skinamarink, (hello, I’m a Gen Xer), hit in parts that I hadn’t really felt since Panos Cosmatos Beyond The Black Rainbow. The 80s and 90s were incredibly scary times where we made it our motto through neon, cheese, and colour to escape our real life terror with fantastical horror to the extremes. Throughout the threats of nuclear war, economic collapse, environmental catastrophes, and international tragedies, we all played with Legos and psychedelic cartoons. I’m pretty surprised of the lack of good horror films that stick with you nowadays because *gestures at everything.* I find the fueling of social media film horror hype to be abhorrent to the genre, placing mediocre films (hi, Malignant) as innovators/blockbusters/on a ridiculous pedestal (but your escapism may vary very much here. As I said, we live in very horrible times). Of course there are present day exceptions that tend to be based in modern folk horror.

But I digress. In a world where both AI art renderings are making me dream of a melting world and multi-fingered people scenarios, it’s refreshing to see something like Skinamarink hit a high note. I mean, my kid inherited this toy from me (as seen in a particularly disturbing scene in the film). This jerk is staring at me right now, so go to sleep.

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