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What Is the New Horror Movie About?

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The trailer for the horror film Skinamarink, out now in select theaters before it premieres on Shudder later this year, teases an entirely confounding and surreal experience. Details about the film’s actual narrative are few and far between, as synopses merely claim that the film focuses on two children who wake up in the middle of the night with their parents and their home’s doors and windows mysteriously having vanished, with the film itself being just as perplexing and bizarre as that description implies. Whether you’re intrigued by the film or have seen it and hope for more answers, you might be surprised by what the entire experience is really about.

WARNING: Spoilers for Skinamarink below

Stripped of its experimental nature, the minimal “plot” of the film sees the young Kevin and Kaylee waking up late at night, all alone in the house and with no escape. Attempting to make calls doesn’t work, and even the toilet has done missing. They opt to take refuge in front of their TV, surrounded by toys and blankets, as they watch cartoons. Sinister voices call out from the shadows, glimpses of their parents appear, Kaylee has her mouth and eyes removed, and the voice encourages Kevin to cut out his eye. Kevin eventually confronts a shadowy entity and a title card offers up the information “572 Days,” implying that the children have suffered this nightmarish event for quite some time. 

Potentially to the relief or to the frustration of audiences, trying to define exactly what is happening in the narrative is a fruitless endeavor. Filmmaker Kyle Edward Ball wants audiences to take whatever messaging they’d like from the experience, as he aimed to create an atmospheric experience as opposed to a linear narrative. There are both countless “correct” interpretations or possibly no definitive answer.

Early in the film, audiences see the children’s father on the phone saying Kevin was sleepwalking and hurt himself, with some interpretations being that everything that follows is merely taking place inside the injured child’s mind. Whether any of the following sequences are just a collection of unsettling sequences or if they have relevance in this family’s life is up to the viewer. In this regard, Skinamarink could offer up metaphors for trauma or loss, as the “real” mom’s absence from the film could be due to death or divorce, with the film potentially using surreal imagery to explore the children’s quest to fill that void. There are also theories that the film is meant to represent some sort of abuse, as the entity hiding in the shadows is the figure (potentially the mother, father, or other family member) that represents that abuse, while the vanishing doors, windows, and useless telephone represent the feeling of being trapped in that inescapable trauma. Along those lines, Kaylee’s vanishing eyes and mouth could represent her turning a blind eye to the abuse of her brother or the punishment or failure to speak out about such trauma.

The film might not be this metaphorical and could be seen as a paranormal experience, with some otherworldly being bending reality and tormenting the children from the shadows, keeping them hostage in an alternate reality and subjecting them to physical torture. Even if these events are a bit more literal, there’s still lots of room for interpretation for the viewer, as they can project this being as whatever they want it to be and interpret the events however they see fit.

Prior to developing Skinamarink, Ball released a series of shorts for his YouTube channel Bitesized Nightmares, in which he took user-submitted nightmares as inspiration for videos. Some of these nightmares were adapted more literally, others more experimentally, but these films eventually led to him developing the 30-minute film Heck. This served as the proof of concept for Skinamarink, as they both have the same premise, with the latter being expanded into a feature-length experience. The uniting trait of Ball’s films is that they all are inspired by or relate to nightmares, which might be the touchstone that explains all of his projects.

Nightmares themselves have no rhyme or reason, no logic, and no physical limitations. They might be inspired by real-life events or entirely constructed by random synapses firing in someone’s brain. Our brains conjure up experiences and ideas that are entirely detached from time and space, being both meaningless and representative of subconscious thoughts. From this perspective, the events of Skinamarink are both very obvious or entirely irrelevant, as the more important component of the endeavor was the feelings it evoked as opposed to narrative cohesion.

While speaking to Inverse, Ball shared of the film’s meanings, “I’ve had people DM me like, ‘What? So what is this?’ Also, it doesn’t matter what I think anymore. Now it’s your movie. When I was shooting and editing it, I was like, ‘This is how I want the viewer to feel.’ It’s been so amazing seeing people actually feel the way I planned it.”

An unexpected wrinkle in the release of Skinamarink is that it was bootlegged from a film festival’s online platform and distributed across social media for months, but its lo-fi and unexplainable nature blurred the line between fact and fiction. Some users believed experiencing the film in segments was due to it being actual home movies, which also inspired users to conjure their own narratives surrounding the mythology of the bizarre footage. Leaked versions of the film definitively hurt the projects box office performance, but this distribution also resulted in the film taking on a life of its own. 

For audiences seeking more meaning or explanation for the events of Skinamarink, what we see is what we get, with every viewer able to extract as much or little from the experience as they’d like. The best explanation for the film is that it’s meant to be a nightmare, allowing each interpretation to be just as valid as the next and assigning as much or as little linear narrative to the experience as you’d like.

Skinamarink is in theaters now and lands on Shudder later this year.

What did you think of the film? Let us know in the comments or contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter to talk all things Star Wars and horror!

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