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Viral Sensation Skinamarink Is This Generation's Blair Witch Project

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Kyle Edward Ball’s devious and chilling indie horror film Skinamarink it’s sparse, like the song Ball takes its name from. The movie, made famous through TikTok and word of mouth, was filmed entirely inside Ball’s childhood home in Edmonton, Alberta. It has only two discernible characters, who barely appear on screen. Ball shapes his horror, and by extension his “story,” around sensory and atmospheric tricks, using carefully curated camera work, lighting, sound, and editing. Skinamarink was met with both praise and skepticism, like so many other great historical horror films – particularly Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s 1999 horror breakthrough. The Blair Witch Project. Ball’s approach to the idea of ​​fear, the meticulous formal movements he uses to generate it, and the audience’s polarized response all remind one of blair witch also.

The song “Skidamarink”, also known as “Skinnamarink”, dates back to the 1910 musical The echo. His lyrics are mostly nonsensical; each short verse ends with “I love you”. More or less halfway Skinamarink, the two main characters – Kaylee and Kevin, a very young sister and brother duo – say to each other “I love you”, signifying that they are concerned about the situation. Left alone in a dark house where the doors and windows disappeared, they grew tired of playing with their toys, watching cartoons and eating cereal. They are starting to notice that the house is getting darker and darker and they want their parents to come back. And then a gurgling, childlike voice calls out to them.

The ambiguity of the film’s horror, which relies much more on sensation than on overtly frightening figures or monsters, has grabbed some viewers by the throat. Fans say it’s innovative in the way Ball creates a sense of dread from minimalist elements. Non-fans say it’s slow, grueling and scare-free. It all brings back The Blair Witch Projectwhich was similarly criticized as “boring” and “not scary” by moviegoers who bought into the anticipated hype surrounding the film but found it not to be what they expected from a horror film.

Some audiences were confused and frustrated by blair witchcinéma vérité approach, with its improvised dialogue, characterization and camera movements. It wasn’t the first horror film found, but it revolutionized technique in American cinema: the way the camera shakes, shakes, drops and obscures objects on purpose suggests that the film was not “directed”.

The approach so unnerved audiences that police in Burkittsville, Maryland, where the film was set, received numerous phone calls from concerned citizens who thought the Blair Witch videotape was real and even formed search parties to find the film’s three characters. . Directors use this handheld camera to trick viewers’ eyes and minds into fooling them. As the images move, shapes and shadows begin to dance. The film never looks bad at first glance, but it was designed to make sure people certainly saw something lurking outside the shot.

At the Skinamarink, the camera is almost stopped. It challenges us to look into the dark hallways, crevices between furniture and shadows that obscure the stairs. The camera stares at a particular repeated dark room or hallway. (It’s hard to say which – the house’s spatial geometry is purposefully ambiguous.) The approach is designed to get viewers to start imagining what might be beyond their vision. We can’t see him, but what if he can see us?

The presence or absence of objects is a big part of the film’s suspense. The camera is usually at ground level or angled toward the ceiling, keeping the characters’ presence and movements ambiguous. When a door creaks, you don’t know who or what is going through it. When a light comes on, it just reveals more dark voids.

Jamie McRae’s cinematography takes Kyle or Kaylee’s POV a few times, with the camera stumbling as they try to find their way in the dark where voices beckon them. Other times, they are only seen in parts, such as feet dangling off the sofa, lit by the bright glare of the TV, or the back of their heads as one stares at seemingly endless nothingness through a dark doorway. These conscious decisions make the floors and walls of the house look gigantic. It perpetually changes our understanding of how the house is put together. Anything can become a portal. Any port can disappear and reappear later. Perhaps the house is alive and can attack literally from anywhere.

While Skinamarink is presented in a retroanalog fashion, with high grain and saturation to mimic the exploitation cinema of the 70s and 80s, the film’s inspiration and word-of-mouth reception was born on the Internet. Ball ran a YouTube channel where he created short films based on viewers’ accounts of their nightmares. He recently told RogerEbert.com that “from the very beginning, the internet has been my co-director.” He turned one of those submissions into the horror short Hella clear precursor Skinamarink. After Skinamarink premiered at the 2022 Fantasia Festival, TikTok users started making their own videos warning viewers about how scary the film is. A press release from the streaming service Shudder claims that the hashtag #Skinamarink reached close to 7 million impressions on TikTok.

Terror and media have always been intertwined in one way or another. Both The Blair Witch Project and Skinamarink gained notoriety by going viral on the internet — in Skinamarink‘s case, after the entire movie was leaked online. Both films also use technology as a source of terror. But where Blair Witch Project used a handheld digital camera as a cipher for the horror, Ball used retro technology. The television in the house, which is on for most of the film, is both a source of comfort and malevolence. It’s an old analogue TV with a VCR, playing public domain retro cartoons, including the Looney Tunes short “Prest-O Change-O”.

In a grainy, artifact-filled, and blurry scene from The Blair Witch Project, protagonist Mike (Michael Williams) smiles and points his camera at the camera filming him.

Image: Craftsman Entertainment

The metaphor the short offers is clear — the house is in constant metamorphosis, and the way random objects and passages disappear represents fear of the unknown and loss of control. The strong white light from the TV, often silhouetted against children and their toys, begins to repeat cartoon sequences. Your audio distorts and rotates. A toy phone rings as if possessed. These simple domestic occurrences take on an ominous presence in the dark. Anyone who grew up in a suburban home can remember these kinds of household creaks and scratches, which sound much louder late at night than they ever would when the sun was out.

Skinamarinka production budget of only about $11,000, and Ball makes the most of its financial limitations by simplifying the film’s atmosphere and relying on cinematic staples. It’s a tour de force to understand how sound and camera movements on their own, with ordinary objects and within ordinary places, can create incredibly effective emotive responses. Ball told iHorror, “I would say in a lot of ways I’m pretty incompetent, but my big strength that I’ve always had is atmosphere.”

Horror has always been more open to cinema’s imaginative possibilities than most genres, and it often makes the most of meager budgets by focusing on humor and aura. For Ball, the production limitations of his YouTube channel helped teach him what works in horror and how to work around the budget for actors or effects. “I had to do a lot of tricks to imply action, imply presence, point of view, to tell a story without a cast,” he told iHorror.

For some people, these limitations and Skinamarinkunconventional storytelling are flawed, as are The Blair Witch Projectthe choppy visuals, off-the-cuff dialogue, and teasing of the narrative were flawed. But both movies are golden examples of how horror filmmakers can experiment with humor and sensation and still find a receptive audience. The approaches of these films are not for everyone, not in a culture that prefers to focus on films that tell audiences things rather than make them feel things.

Anyway, Skinamarink undeniably provokes strong reactions. like Blair Witch Project in 1999 is nothing like the other viral hits of its era, and its ability to evoke fear and dread in the simplest of ways is a testament to the ingenuity and creativity that horror cinema offers. It remains to be seen whether Skinamarink has something like the impact The Blair Witch Project had on film, in terms of a generation of endless imitators and an extensive subgenre of its own. Perhaps, instead, it’s just a reminder that as long as horror directors keep finding new ways to scare their audiences, they’ll keep pushing the genre forward.

Skinamarink opens in theaters on January 13.

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