When you get a tattoo, your body thinks it’s being attacked…because, well, it is. Your mind and your body start fighting back against the invading needles puncturing your skin at up to 200 times a second. Your blood sugar can plummet, and you might start sweating and shaking. If you sit for a tattoo for several hours, it becomes quite the endurance test: 20 minutes can feel like two hours. A tattoo session can be very pleasurable, but it’s still a battle between your mind and your body to endure an experience that takes a lot out of you.
Watching Kyle Edward Ball’s Skinamarink is the cinematic equivalent of getting a tattoo. I could feel my physical and psychological defense mechanisms kick in the longer I watched the film. At times I felt myself disconnecting from the movie unconsciously in order to protect myself from the terror on screen. I felt my mind start to wander in spots, not because the movie was boring, but because it was so intense. It’s a tactic that my body takes during particularly intense psychotherapy sessions, so I recognize the methods well. I found myself thinking about how much gas was left in my car and whether I would need to go by a gas station on the way home. I wondered about what snacks I had at the house to eat after I got home, since I had skipped dinner. What I wasn’t thinking about were the horrors on screen: faces with no eyes or mouths, inky black doorways that I could swear I saw tendrils crawling out of, or children’s toys that had suddenly taken on an ominous otherworldliness.
Even though I was occasionally able to disconnect mentally, my body used a different tactic. I found myself adopting what I call the “nope” pose. I do this to protect myself physically from jump scares. I clench my fists tightly so I can’t accidentally scratch myself when I flail at the screen. I clench my teeth with my tongue tucked safely in between them so I don’t accidentally bite my tongue or bite my cheeks when I yelp. I hold my chin tucked down and press my back against the chair as hard as I can, bracing myself for impact. I jumped several times during the movie, and the nope pose protected me every time. In fact, I found myself adopting the nope pose so much during Skinamarink that my wrists and neck are still sore the morning after.
Normally at this point in the review I would have already told you what the movie is about. Young children Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) find themselves in a house with disappearing doors and windows, trapped with something in the dark. The majority of the film consists of grainy shots of a dark house seen from the eye level of a child, and it mines the same visceral fear of the dark and lack of understanding of what’s going on around you that a child has. That’s all I can tell you about what this film is about. I can tell you how it feels — because I’m still feeling it the day after, as I write this review — and I can tell you how it affected me. As for what it’s about? That monster will look different for everyone, because Skinamarink reaches into your subconscious and plucks out the worst nightmare you ever had. Then, diabolically, it doesn’t show you your nightmare; rather, it gives you a black mirror to gaze into and convince you that your nightmare is hiding in the shadows, ready to pounce.
Skinamarink won’t be for everyone. It’s a deliberately paced experimental film that relies less on narrative than on physical sensation. Like a tattoo, it’s an endurance test. Some viewers might find their minds wandering, not out of dissociative terror like me, but out of genuine boredom. But for those who see their nightmares lurking in the shadows, Skinamarink is a unique experience in terror that’s impossible to forget.