When I was little, me and my younger brother would play a game where we'd stare at each other's faces in the dark until we transformed into hideous monsters. The darkness, combined with our imaginations, would produce horrific hallucinatory results and we'd usually end up tapping out amidst screams while scrambling toward the light switch. Writer/director Kyle Edward Ball's experimental feature debut SKINAMARINK is just such a mind screw and viewer satisfaction with it will likely rely on whatever personal bugaboos they bring to the table. I've written before (HERE) about my traumatic experience of being "accidentally" abandoned at a beach house when I was a mere four years old so Ball's film felt uncomfortably tailor-made for exhuming my core neuorosis. The nightmare tale involves two young siblings who wake up in the middle of the night only to find their familiar home has turned into a HOUSE OF LEAVES-style ambiguous maze complete with disappearing windows and doors, Lego minefields,public domain cartoons and finally, a plastic telephone with a goofy smile that suggests it's somehow responsible.
SKINAMARINK was not playing nearby so I had to go far outside my comfort zone to see it on a rainy night in a funky theater that seemed to have closed decades ago. It was quite the memorable experience, but I would probably decline undergoing it again. This is a film that feels more like a spell than anything else; it's esoteric as all get out and cryptic on a level that seems more at home in an art gallery than a multiplex. I'm going to assume that many viewers will find this sneaky jaunt excruciatingly boring as the lion's share of the flick consists of vague, off-kilter shots of the ceiling and long dives into a squirmy, grainy amorphous darkness. It's quite like being hypnotized into a trance-like state and then being periodically slapped into sobriety by cymbal crashes. Again, it's most definitely not for everyone and even though it certainly had my number, I'm not sure it was even for me. On the other hand, there are a couple of moments that rattled my psyche in ways that a more conventional horror film could never dream of and I can't have anything but respect for that. Ultimately, SKINAMARINK is an original, singular horror experience but whether that experience is fascinating and frightening or absolutely aggravating may depend entirely on the beholder. I personally rather dug it as a challenging and uncomfortable walk down creepy memory lane.