SPOILER WARNING: The following gives away many key scenes from Skinamarink, so if you have not seen it yet, proceed with caution.
The creepy and inventive plot of Skinamarink — two children trapped in their own house with an omnipotent entity — had me so intrigued. I felt I had an obligation as a horror movie fan to see it during its limited theatrical run on the 2023 movies schedule in January. Much to my delight, I thought that writer and director Kyle Edward Ball’s bizarre feature-length debut was a thoroughly creepy, engrossingly unique indie horror game-changer. And months later, when I found a Steelbook copy of the film on Blu-ray, I bought it on the spot. However, I should admit that I did make that purchase with some hesitation.
Because while I still maintained the belief that Skinamarink was one of the best horror movies I had seen as of late, I also knew this was not an opinion shared by everyone. The highly experimental thriller’s divisive reception (on Rotten Tomatoes, 72% of critics like it, but it has a 44% audience rating) had awakened a new level of fear within. And it forced me to ponder how I might feel about it when I watched it a second time. I thought I would wait until the appropriately spooky month of October to go “in this house” a second time and the following is a breakdown of my reaction.
My Anticipation Of Jump Scares Was Enhanced
As someone who has seen his fair share of horror movies, I often find it easier to see things coming. So therefore a film’s scarier moments do not always have the desired effect on me. This is especially the case with horror movies I have already seen, which is why I went into my Skinamarink rewatch fearing the suspense would be lost. Boy, was I wrong.
From the moment four-year-old Kevin (Lucas Paul) and his older sister, Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault), wake up to a parentless, windowless, doorless house, memories of what was about to happen to them came flooding in. And it invoked a feeling dread so strong, I almost contemplated shutting it off at one point. What are widely considered to be the scariest moments in the film — the evil Fisher Price toy phone and Kaylee’s missing mouth — were as frightening to me as the first time, despite their viral popularity on TikTok. Rarely has a horror film been so satisfying to me on a second watch.
I Could Relate To The Children Better
As my anxiety reached its peak, I started to wonder how Skinamarink could be even more alarming and intimidating to me than the first time I saw it. Like I said, I had never had an experience with a horror movie like this before — save the time I was initially disappointed by the timelessly terrifying The Exorcist on a small TV with friends before later watching it on a projector in a horror movie class prompted my immediate conversion. That’s when it hit me.
I first saw Skinamarink in a theater packed with moviegoers, including my wife. The second time — as the title of this article reflects — I was in my own house, in complete darkness, and with no other human around… kind of like Kevin and Kaylee. This allowed me to put myself in the shoes of the main characters and empathize with the bizarre and horrifying nature of their situation on deeper and more immersive level. I guess this just proves your experience with a movie can depend significantly on your environment.
Therefore, I Was Even More Scared Of The Entity
Now that Kevin, Kaylee, and I were on the same fear wavelength, I was even more spooked by the antagonist of the story: a nameless being of unlimited power we never actually see — as far as I could tell — until Skinamarink’s unsettling final shot. That was the only moment I recall being truly sacred of this mysterious creation the first time. However, I now consider it to be one of the scariest modern horror movie villains, especially after learning what it could represent.
Skinamarink has inspired many interesting interpretations, such as one from YouTube’s The Film Theorists positing it is a comatose Kevin’s dream. The one I gravitate toward to the most (as mentioned by SlashFilm) suggests the kids’ parents are divorcing and the Entity symbolizes its effect on them; their own house not feeling like home anymore and their mother (Jaime Hill) not acting like herself is represented by the Entity’s impersonation of her at certain times. That disguise is alluded to in a very chilling scene that we don’t actually see, thankfully, in which the Entity puts Kevin in a time loop of his own murder — a cruel boundary I actually admire the film for pushing.
The Story Was Easier To Follow A Second Time
I love how Skinamarink is prioritizes the unseen over the seen — similar to the classic found footage horror movie, The Blair Witch Project. However, that 1999 thriller had a much more traditional narrative than this atmospheric and practically plotless film that makes even some of the strangest David Lynch movies look like average crowd-pleasers.
That being said, amid the seemingly random shots of blank corners and dark hallways, there is obviously a story here, but one that I — and many other fans, I am sure — still do not fully comprehend. I did, however, have a much better understanding of it the second time thanks to my prior familiarity with it and the subsequent research I have done sifting through analyses. This contributed to my enhanced satisfaction with the experience. Just imagine how I may feel a third time.
I Had Greater Appreciation For The Aesthetic
What I love most about Skinamarink is the way it effectively captures the feeling of a nightmare, especially from a child’s perspective. The aforementioned shots of blank corners and dark hallways invoke a disorienting swell of mystery that brought me right back to the days of my youth before I got a dreamcatcher. The second viewing, however, brought out something different.
While the film’s unique visuals still achieved that same nightmarish quality, there were times I would stare into the dark void, watching the pattern created by the faux, ‘90s VHS-style grain with an unprecedented feeling of curiosity. Am I just looking at static, I began to wonder, or is there really something there staring back at me? It takes a filmmaker of very distinct skill to create this sort of reaction, which brings me to my next and final thought.
I Am Looking Forward to Kyle Edward Ball’s Next Project
For years, I wondered when I would find a kind of style of horror that really gets under my skin to a point at which I can barely even finish it. I found it after I saw Skinamarink and decided to check out Kyle Edward Ball’s YouTube channel, Bitesized Nightmares, for which he recreates bad dreams his subscribers submit to him in astonishingly detail. I am not exaggerating when I say I had I’ve had to watch these between my fingers and I have been reluctant to watch all of them.
So, when I say that I am looking forward to Ball’s next upcoming horror movie — which he confirmed he is in the process of writing on X — I really mean that a part of me is excited, while another is dreading it. I know what this guy is capable of and if it is anything like his Bitesized Nightmares or his horrifying proof of concept short that predates Skinamarink, Heck, I might need to see it in a theater just to make sure I am not alone.
In conclusion, Skinamarink — which is available with a Shudder subscription, but is also one of the best horror movies on Hulu currently — is even better on rewatch, especially if seen in your house… in my opinion, at least. Although I am fully aware that my admiration for this film puts me on one side of a passionate debate, I am actually thankful for how its divisive nature helped it avoid becoming one of the many recent horror movies that flew under the radar and, instead, sparked a surprising wave of conversation that I hope continues to endure.