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This post contains major spoilers for “Skinamarink” and “Heck.”
The thing about most “atmospheric” horror films — or better yet, “atmospheric” films of any genre — is that they are almost always more than the vibes they emanate. With newcomer Kyle Edward Ball’s liminal nightmare “Skinamarink,” you may have in fact been hearing that the film is all vibes with very little plot. Well, I’m here to tell you that’s entirely untrue, and to implore you to give the movie a second in-theater viewing to clear things up for yourself. If you can wait until the film arrives on Shudder, which will be its exclusive streaming home, then by all means, but either way, you’re going to want to take a look at this extensive breakdown if you’re of the mind that this kinderhorror masterpiece has very little movement.
To tell a story in the abstract does not, innately, force it into a cyclical narrative with no movement. It can be harder to piece together, but ultimately sometimes more satisfying than if you were being spoon-fed. This film rewards those who pay attention to every little detail, but in case you still need a little help parsing together what happens in “Skinamarink,” keep reading.
So, What Actually Happens In Skinamarink?
I know it seems like this film is full of impossibly dark shots of the corners of rooms, ominous shuffling of blankets, and muted dialogue, but the sensory experience these directorial choices give the audience makes way for a harrowing tale that cuts deep if you let it.
The film starts with our lead character, 4-year-old Kevin, who gets out of bed in the middle of the night one night and is pushed down the stairs by something unknown. His dad checks him out and is happy he doesn’t need stitches — but this is the last we see of Kevin’s father. Later that night, Kevin and his 6-year-old sister Kaylee are awoken by a loud noise but find no trace of their dad.
They decide to have a sleepover in the living room while they wait for their father to return, and play with Legos by the light of old cartoons. But their curiosity quickly gets the better of them, so Kevin and Kaylee leave their home base to search the house. They find that the windows and doors of the home have inexplicably disappeared, the phone lines are not working, and there is still no sign of their father anywhere. They question where their parents are, though the mention of their mother is both sensitive and mysterious. It seems they are unsure of her whereabouts too, but that she disappeared in some fashion before the events of the film.
The siblings hear another loud noise and go investigate with a flashlight, to which they find a kitchen chair floating upside down on the ceiling. Despite being naturally unsettled by the sight, Kevin and Kaylee go to sleep once again. When they wake up, Kevin alerts Kaylee to the fact that the house’s toilet has also gone missing and they set up two buckets in the bathroom for themselves. At this point, the pair have lost track of time, and a voice beckons Kaylee, “Come upstairs.”
When the older sibling hits the second floor, she enters her parents’ bedroom, where a voice tells her to look under the bed. She finds nothing there, but when she looks back up, she sees a female figure sitting on the bed. The figure, which appears to be the children’s mother, asks her to close her eyes. When Kaylee opens them, the figure is gone — and then a burst of static high-pitched noise and white light fills the room for a moment.
An unknown amount of time later, Kevin asks Kaylee what happened upstairs, but she doesn’t tell him. Instead, she asks him to help her move the couch and push it in front of the dark hallway that called to her. That night while the kids sleep, one of the cartoons becomes stuck on a loop, playing a scene where a rabbit makes himself disappear. Then, their toys start to disappear as well.
Alone In The House
The next time they hear the voice, it asks the children to go downstairs. They make their way into the basement with a flashlight, but it loses power, and the siblings become frightened in the darkness. Kevin can’t find Kaylee, but when the flashlight regains its power, it is shining right on her — except both of her eyes and mouth have disappeared. From this point forth in the film, Kevin is alone in the house, save for the entity longing to connect with him.
As he continues to attempt to navigate the unknown, more and more items continue to stick to the ceiling and walls. The voice makes another appearance, and this time, it addresses Kevin directly for the first time, commanding him to sleep. Toys continue to disappear. Sometime later, the voice notices Kevin playing with his Legos and says, “I want to play.” However, Kevin seems to ignore the voice until sometime later it asks him to stab himself in the eye. His childlike crying echoes through the house after he does what the voice asks. The television seems to cut out entirely shortly after, and for a moment, it seems that Kevin sees Kaylee from behind sitting in front of the TV.
Now distraught and in immense pain, he tries to use the phone again to call 911, and surprisingly, it seems to work. The toddler tells the operator that he hurt himself with a knife and feels sick, and the kind voice on the other end of the phone asks all the questions you would expect, instructing Kevin to stay on the phone until help arrives. When the operator asks why Kevin starts speaking so quietly — and if someone is in the room with him — Kevin tells the operator that the doors are gone before he runs away, scared of something in the shadows.
An Infinite Hallway
Later, Kevin and the voice begin a dialogue, in which the voice reveals to the child that it can do anything. It also reveals that his sister “didn’t do as she was told … so I took her mouth away.” It tries again to get Kevin to come upstairs, and this time he takes his flashlight to the second floor. It won’t stay lit consistently, so he turns it on and off as he is spoken to by the voice. When he turns it back on, he is on the ceiling of the second-floor hallway, just like the chair in the kitchen was early in the film. He walks along the ceiling, seemingly at the behest of the voice, and enters a room. He asks to go back downstairs but seems to linger there without instruction.
Next, we see Kevin’s radio toy suspended upside down on the ceiling, surrounded by a massive pile of Legos, a knocked-over dollhouse, and other toys. It is revealed that it has been 572 days since the last scene. The camera continues to push out on the scene while cartoon music from the television earlier plays, seemingly from the radio toy. The hallway is infinite and goes on long after the toys and music are out of sight and earshot.
Go To Sleep
Later, we see a person with long dark hair sitting down next to a bed with their back toward the camera. Slowly but surely, their head seemingly lifts off their body and floats into the air before disappearing. We see Kevin again, using his flashlight in the hallway against open and closed doors. Kevin and the voice communicate in hushed tones before a series of old photographs are cycled through on screen. Some of the children in them have no faces, while others have no heads entirely. They very possibly could be photos of Kevin and Kaylee, but it is unclear because of the distortions.
In the film’s final minutes, the focus is on an upside-down image of the corner of a wall and the carpet floor. We hear a soft crying and then see blood splattering on the carpet accompanied by a loud scream and cartoon music. It repeats several times, as if on a loop. Kevin calls for his mother before the screen goes dark. The flashlight clicks on again, showing that Kevin at least momentarily survived whatever terrible thing happened to him, and he calls out for Kaylee, asking her if they can watch something happy. A white closed door surrounded by a pitched black hallway comes into view, panning in closer and closer.
The last thing we see is a muted outline of a face coming into view in the darkness. It says to go to sleep, to which Kevin, in a meek whisper, asks its name.
But What Do We Think Is Really Going On?
Listen, it’s a fair question — and one that goes back to Kyle Edward Ball’s 2020 proof-of-concept short “Heck,” which is currently available for viewing via YouTube. I implore you to give it a watch, especially if you enjoyed “Skinamarink,” but either way, the short illuminates some aspects of the story that have become more abstract in Ball’s feature-length version of the story.
To be fair, not all aspects of “Heck” and “Skinamarink” are the same, but both films give us something really unexpected in the last act: an absurd length of time that goes by. In “Skinamarink,” we are met with a shot that tells us it has been 572 days since the previous scene, while at the same time showing us what Jordan Peele has coined through his latest feature “Nope” as a “bad miracle.” There’s no way all those toys could be on the ceiling, nor could the hallway go on forever inside that house — logically speaking, of course. To the same end, there’s no way Kevin could be stuck inside a house with no windows, doors, or toilet for over a year and a half, especially if he was able to get in contact with emergency services.
But he is stuck, and those toys do float. One cartoon motif in the film’s second half is a repeating loop of one cartoon animal making himself disappear as the other reacts in shock. Later, Kevin is repeatedly mutilated on a loop with cartoon music as the overture, and further still, he lives to tell the tale. Even before that, it would be hard to survive a knife in the eye for a year and a half without medical attention. There’s really only one clear-cut explanation for what Kevin’s home has become.
You Are Here Forever
In “Heck,” there is a similar scene to the “572 days” moment, only there are more and more numbers, and they become unfathomable. Nearly 2,750 years pass. The puzzle pieces may be clicking for you, but let me spell it out: This place is Hell. Just like in “Heck,” the protagonist of “Skinamarink” is in Hell, and there is no way out.
It’s also important to note that Kevin is the only one of the four people in his family who make it to the end of the film. The children’s mother seems to have been removed from the picture before the film starts, but her presence haunts them within the hellscape of the house. Their father’s disappearance is one of the initial catalysts of the film, and his sister, Kaylee, did not do what the voice told her, so she was rendered senseless and taken away. It’s also possible that she is the person whose head detached and disappeared in the film’s last few scenes.
So how does Kevin make it to the final frame? Well, he’s four years old. Four-year-olds often do as they’re told — and it explains why he is, in a way, bold enough to ask the voice its name in the last seconds of the movie. He’s malleable and moldable in the mental way the voice wants, and he is also breakable and repairable in the physical in this cyclical abyss. It’s not pleasant, but it is his ultimate fate.
Are There Any Fan Theories About Skinamarink?
You know that when the internet latches onto something, theories are a natural next step in the life cycle of that obsession. Aside from the “Hell” theory, there are a few good ones that definitely hit home, and they’ve been discussed up and down the internet from Reddit to Twitter.
Some folks think that when Kevin fell down the stairs at the top of the film, he was knocked into a coma and the film is about his experience inside that state. Others think that his father was the one who pushed him, and the film’s narrative is a dissection of abuse. Some even speculate that the fall was a freak accident, which certainly frames the film in a more tragic light. There’s also a theory that purports that the house is a purgatorial space.
No matter the theory, one thing is for sure: “Skinamarink” is a type of scary that most horror films don’t even come close to—and the film’s harrowing plot is a major part of why the scares are such a success.
“Skinamarink” is in theaters in the United States now, and will be available to stream exclusively on Shudder at a later date.
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The post Skinamarink Isn’t Just Vibes – The Story Matters More Than You Think appeared first on /Film.