Kyle Edward Ball’s 2022 film Skinamarink follows two children Kevin and Kaylee as they wake up in the middle of the night to a silent, dark house and a missing father. It doesn’t take long for the night to grow unsettling for the kids as windows and doors begin popping out of existence. To cope with the strange events happening around them, Kevin and Kaylee camp in the living room, using cartoons to drown out the silence and regain some comfort in their now empty and unfamiliar home.
Ball started his YouTube channel Bitesized Nightmares in 2015 with his nightmare series. A short series of analog horror that makes use of unsettling audio, atmospheres, and nostalgia which Balls seems to have used as a playground for his filmmaking skills. His debut full length film Skinamarink is the combination of all visual and audio editing the director has been practicing on his YouTube channel – including Skinamarink’s original short film Heck (2020) which tells the story of a mother and son stuck in a hellish home together.
Because this film has only just reached streaming platforms as of February 2nd, this review will be broken into two sections: a Spoiler-Free review for those who plan to watch the film and haven’t yet, and a Spoiler section where more discussion will take place on the plot and themes Skinamarink provides its audience. If you have not watched Skinamarink and want to, I highly recommend you do so blind and as soon as possible. Afterwards, I hope you return to examine the second half of this review where I will provide my interpretation and meaning behind the film’s story. Along with this, I hope some readers share insights they discovered while watching this film as there is no singular correct answer to what’s happening.
Skinamarink has been making its rounds on the internet for being the newest terrifying film to hit the big screen. However, what about it makes it scarier than the rest? What does Skinamarink do differently that causes it to linger with us even when the movie is over? In this spoiler-free section, I hope to briefly cover a few of the effects and choices Ball made in Skinamarink that causes it to be such a stunning piece of horror cinema.
Upon entering the film, audiences’ perspective is found to be skewed throughout by awkward and strange camera angles, most of which miss the main action happening in the scene. Many times the camera is not directed at the speaking party (or anyone, really) but instead a dark hallway, the ceiling, the floor, or a corner of the action taking place. Rather than giving the audience a wide shot of scenes and the ability to take in the environment, Ball focuses his camera deep into the scene, often placing it in front of toys or the children’s feet. This causes a large majority of the film itself to be visually uncertain, leaving audience members to imagine what’s happening rather than being shown the events the way a normal movie might. However, camera angles are not the only piece of uncertainty Ball provides as he also plays with the lighting on his set. Most environments are too dark to see much of what’s happening, and if this were any other film it would be a large complaint I’d hold. However, the way darkness is done in Skinamarink benefits the atmosphere as many great scenes provide just enough light for the audience to think they see something in the shadows which may or may not be real. While this effect is only done a few times, each time it pulled off incredibly well. I believe many would argue that this lack of certainty Skinamarink has is one of the main components to making the film difficult to watch – both in a positive and negative sense.
For some, this uncertainty may be exactly what they’re looking for in the horror genre. There are horror fans (myself included) whose favorite pieces provide more terror through an uncertain situation rather than seeing in detail the monster, the events, the brutal killings, and so on. However, this practice is not appealing to everyone as some may find difficulty paying attention or having interest in a film that is mostly lacking in visuals. Skinamarink is definitely an experimental piece in the horror genre which already has and will continue to garner a mixture positive and negative reviews.
As mentioned before, much of Ball’s work through his YouTube is based on building an atmosphere and perfecting auditory effects. While atmosphere is a topic discussed at length with successful and unsuccessful horror movies, the auditory effects a film can have on its viewer is discussed less-so. With both atmosphere and audio, Ball’s work thrives in the uncertainty of the situation. Many of the audio cues which are most effective take place in the silent, dark hallways of the film. As the film progresses, rumbling, wood creaking, and warped voices that lay somewhere between a human and an animal become more prevalent in the darkness. Personally, during my viewings of this film I remained in awe over Ball’s auditory effects – and as his YouTube channel’s ‘About’ section suggests, Skinamarink is better with headphones.
Another unique aspect in the way Skinamarink is filmed is that it takes the point of view of a child and how children cope in strange or stressful situations. As discussed, the camera angles of the film are awkward and often don’t make sense, and along with this the camera remains at hip or knee-level for an adult. In other words, Ball’s camera remains in the perspective of the children Kevin and Kaylee, meaning everything taking place is through their eyes. Audiences are forced to feel as small and vulnerable as the children. Many other reviewers, such as YouTube Creepy-Content Creator Wendigoon, relate the events of this film to their own childhood memories of being left alone for the first time (or, in Wendigoon’s case, having these memories resurface after viewing the film). I’ve also had a memory of being left alone thanks to Skinamarink; my great-grandmother's motionless house, a long, intimidating hallway, no sign of life in any car or bedroom. In my childhood situation, I attempted using the television to bring comfort just as Kevin and Kaylee, but unfortunately the TV was unfamiliar to me and the only channel I could find was static (and yes, of course the static made my fear worse). Because of this perspective, it adds to the pressure of wondering when the night will end and when the sun will rise along with the adults to put everything back to normal.
Overall, I do believe Skinamarink is getting the attention it deserves. There have been countless times where I come across TikTok videos of horror films proclaimed to be “unwatchable” due to how scary or disturbing they are. And, more times than not, the movie being discussed is lack-luster or boring. Did I find the film scary – no, but I’m a viewer who is desensitized to the genre (unfortunately). However, that does not mean I don’t appreciate everything that went into making Skinamarink and how it could affect more horror-sensitive audiences. Ball focuses more on creating an uncomfortable atmosphere in his film, which I believe is what can make this film so terrifying. It’s not a specific demon or monster, rather a feeling of dread that follows us when we wake up at 3 am to use the restroom. The terror in the film also comes from inside one’s own home and the family impacted seems to have been chosen by a paranormal force out of pure randomness – which means, it can happen to you, too.
I give Skinamarink 3.5 out of 5 coffins
Skinamarink is a very experimental film – I might compare Ball’s use of atmosphere building to that of David Lynch’s Eraserhead and it matches a few themes as the novel House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I’m not a huge fan of relating one person’s work to another but hopefully these will give new viewers a rough idea for what to expect in terms of “experimental.”
If you’re not into experimental horror though, you might not enjoy this film. It’s very slow, silent, and lacks a lot of visual activity. It’s definitely something that’s only going to be good to a specific audience, and I don’t think many mainstream audiences could get through this without, honestly, falling asleep. Not because it’s boring but because it’s so incredibly dark and quiet.
While this is somewhat of a mediocre score, I do highly recommend the film for its execution, story, special effects, and creation of a perfectly sinister atmosphere. I believe Ball put a lot of passion into this piece and it shows. In my opinion, Skinamarink has a lot to offer from its use of terror to the many interpretations viewers have had after watching the film including the narrative relating to divorce, abuse, the afterlife, or trauma. However, if you want to see something interesting, I highly recommend watching the full cartoon Bimbo’s Initiation (clips of which are shown in the film) either before or after watching Skinamarink.
Skinamarink is now available through the platform Shudder (offers 7 day free trial; $5/month subscription).
The section below the cut contains a discussion of Skinamarink with spoilers and this writer’s interpretation of the story.
At its core, the narrative Skinamarink provides is that of a fairy tale – specifically Hansel & Gretel as Ball has commented in an interview with Jezebel journalist Rich Juzwiak. In this segment, I’d like to take the time to showcase how Skinamarink re-invents the story of Hansel & Gretel and re-invents what is considered a fairy tale.
To understand how Skinamarink performs as a twisted fairy tale requires the audience to understand what’s happening in the plot. As mentioned previously, this film follows two children who wake up in the middle of the night and find their windows, doors, and father missing. The opening seven minutes of the film shows Kevin walking down the upstairs hallway with a toy radio that will only play static. First, Kevin and Kaylee attempt to resolve the issue themselves before entering another room and having their father fix it instead. Later the same night Kevin is seen alone in the hall talking to an invisible entity – The Poltergeist is how I will refer to this creature – which then seems to push him down the stairs. It’s after this incident that Kevin is taken to the hospital, but upon arrival back home things are not the same as they once were.
Kaylee is the first to find something wrong with the house as she watches the windows and doors disappear then appear again before vanishing completely out of existence. Like the toy radio in the beginning, the children believe this is another strange incident that their father can easily fix. It’s unclear whether the father is missing or if he won’t wake up, but later conversations between the children suggest that, “Maybe he went [somewhere] with mom.” From this point, The Poltergeist acts relatively patient but has cut all contact with the world outside of the home including telephone lines and later the downstairs toilet, making Kevin and Kaylee’s home left in a void both metaphorically and literally. It’s not until Kaylee gets called upstairs by a voice that sounds like her father that The Poltergeist manages to find a vessel – the mother, who has appeared out of thin air into the house.
In the parents room, Kaylee is asked to look under the bed by the father only to raise up and find the father gone and the mother sitting up on her side of the bed. From here, the mother’s voice sounds regretful and as many other reviewers have pointed out this remorse as she tells Kaylee, “Your father and I love you and Kevin very much” is reminiscent of a parent’s talk of divorce. Kaylee’s mother then goes into the closet where she lets her daughter know, “There’s somebody in here” before the sound of bones breaking and animalistic groans are heard. The last thing Kaylee sees is her mother’s hand clawing out of the closet and a high-pitched scream. It’s not long after Kaylee’s return to the living room that Kevin wakes up to find Kaylee in the basement missing her mouth and presumed dead. Once Kevin is isolated, the series of events escalates quickly. The Poltergeist communicates with Kevin frequently and becomes more violent. Not only has it isolated the youngest member of the family (4 years old), but it has possessed the body of Kevin’s mother, becomes angry with Kevin and forces him to stick a knife in his eye, and as the film concludes the audience sees that Kevin has been stuck in the home being endlessly killed and revived by The Poltergeist for 572 days and counting.
So, what does this have to do with fairy tales and Hansel & Gretel? Quite a lot if you pay close enough attention. For the most part, the mother-figure is an important aspect to both stories. While the children Hansel and Gretel have an evil stepmother who turns out to be the witch in the end, the children Kevin and Kaylee have a loving mother (in this interpretation) who is turned into a monster against her will. I clarify that this is my interpretation of the mother because several other analyses on this film see the mother as an abusive figure towards the children. However, there are some beats the film makes that leads me to believe the mother in this twisted fairy tale is trying to help her children but ultimately fails.
Where Hansel and Gretel are pulled into the spider’s web with sweets and pastries, Kevin and Kaylee are pulled into the spider’s web by a false sense of protection. The neverending night is scary and intimidating to them, it’s changed everything they previously thought they knew and are currently trapped and figuring out how to cope. They regularly check on the parents' room and ask each other, “Why has nobody come yet?” Kevin and Kaylee hope and wait for an adult to make sense of the solace for them. When an adult does finally arrive, it’s the mother and she’s not who she once was. However, I don’t think the mother is completely lost.
Shortly after Kevin stabs himself in the eye, the mother comes into the living room where the children have been camping and sits in front of the television. There’s silence, not even cartoons are playing anymore. All the audience sees is the back of her head against the silhouette of the television screen. Then, she vanishes. We hear a phone’s dial tone. The landline to the home is usable again and Kevin immediately calls 9-1-1. This scene suggests that there may be part of the mother attempting to fight through The Poltergeist’s grasp in order to help her son. Likewise, earlier when Kevin is being told why Kaylee had to die, The Poltergeist states that she was not doing as she was told and asked for her mom and dad too much. While the audience does not get to see Kaylee’s death play out, it could be assumed that perhaps as this figure who looks like her mother attacked her, Kaylee’s cries for her mother broke through to the mother’s consciousness. Perhaps hearing her own child in pain and fear caused the mother to gain some control back so The Poltergeist took away Kaylee’s mouth. However, by day 572 it seems as though what was once the mother has completely vanished and become The Poltergeist – or, The Poltergeist has gotten strong enough to completely suppress the mother’s consciousness.
Why would The Poltergeist choose the mother over any other vessel in the home? Why not the father who the children regularly ask for? There are a number of possibilities for why this is, some of which do relate to the previously mentioned interpretations of divorce and abuse. But here I might suggest that the mother was taken because the father was too strong willed and thus had to die, or, if you wish to be heartbroken, the mother could have been chosen because of the close mother-child relationships young kids have. In other words, I believe the mother was possessed because just about every child cries for their mother when they’re scared – she’s an important figure in the world; she’s the one who gave us life. The Poltergeist’s goal with choosing the mother could be as simple, and sad, as fooling the children into believing they’re safe. We see this play towards the film’s conclusion as Kevin braces for the second floor of the home on his own. As he exits the stairs and flashes his light down the hallway we find that the entire home has been flipped upside down – the ceiling is the floor and the floor is the ceiling. The Poltergeist tells Kevin, “It’s okay. I will protect you. Keep moving.” Although, as we now know by the film’s conclusion, Kevin was in-fact not protected and endured at least 572 days constant torture alone and by a creature that’s taken the form of his mother.
This is just my interpretation for how it relates to the Hansel & Gretel story. However, I do believe there could be other readings for how the two narratives and the mother-figures relate to one another. For example, perhaps the mother isn’t loving and the fairy tale is linked to domestic abuse. Before the mother ever makes her first appearance Kaylee tells her brother, “I don’t want to talk about mom.” There could be some tension in the family that impacts the Hansel & Gretel narrative and causes it to bleed into other interpretations. Perhaps The Poltergeist was an effect of some desperate attempt for the mother to keep her children after a divorce and the mother’s wish happened in a Monkey’s Paw situation. She now gets to keep her children forever, but at what cost? They’re all stuck in a void, a home with no connection to the outside, with a Poltergeist who continues to grow stronger and warp their realities.
Finally, I wish to briefly touch on a few smaller aspects of the Hansel & Gretel story which can be found in Skinamarink. In the original fairy tale, the children find themselves lost in dark woods trying to find their way home, or to civilization, as they escape the evil step-mother. Their trails disappear, they have no way to care for themselves until stumbling upon the witch’s gingerbread cottage. In Skinamarink, Kevin and Kaylee’s once beloved and familiar home turns into a dark forest for them. The only light comes from the television which in turn creates a warm, safe haven for the children to wait their time out in. It could also be argued that the stairwell and upstairs hallway are the “path” for Kevin and Kaylee to find the “witch’s cottage”, or where The Poltergeist primarily resides.
Once in the gingerbread cottage, Gretel becomes a maid as Hansel is kept in a cage to be fattened and eaten. Gretel does what she can to save her brother and bide her time, and defeats the witch in the end. Where Skinamarink differs is that the witch, or Poltergeist, wins at the end. It has gotten rid of the only people protecting its meal, Kevin, who it has targeted from the very beginning of the film. Skinamarink is as if Gretel had been thrown in the oven before getting to save her brother.
Skinamarink will probably be one of the only lengthy reviews found on this blog merely because of the volume of potential discussion this film has – some of which made me equally excited as the fairy tale narrative. For example, the cartoons that are used throughout the film deserves its own article entirely. There is a lot happening within the cartoons the children are watching and how it relates to the events transpiring in the film. The cartoon that stood out to me was one I’m very familiar with titled Bimbo’s Initiation by Max Fleischer which follows the Betty Boop character Bimbo through an underground house of horrors and danger. Many of the events Bimbo encounters include endless hallways, fake doorways, entrapment, a refusal to join/give in to an ominous torturer, the building being turned upside down, vanishing objects, and so on. This cartoon follows Kevin’s journey through the house and his relationship with The Poltergeist eerily well (it’s almost as if the director chose it specifically because of this). But I digress. The point is – there is a lot that could be covered with this movie and I would love to hear what other viewers took away from Skinamarink.