Writer/director/editor Kyle Edward Ball seemed destined to make Skinamarink his first full-length feature that transports you to a time when it appeared the confines of your home could work against you. His YouTube channel, Bitesized Nightmares, is full of shorts based on the reoccurring dreams people who watched his videos have had. When we think of the monster in the house, it’s often paired with the reassurance from our parents that everything is going to be alright. They’ll check under the bed, the closet, and whatever nook and cranny of our bedrooms to quiet our fears.
But what if you took the parents out of the equation along with the doors and windows? Skinamarink asks its audience to go back to when the slight comfort of your night lite wasn’t enough to stop your imagination from running rampant. The film has a personal touch to it as well. Ball filmed within his childhood home in Edmonton, Alberta – perhaps where he experienced the same phenomenons Skinamarink sees to invoke. Made with a modest $15,000 budget, the film doesn’t allow itself to be defined by that. Instead, the rash of creative camera angles, sound, and perspective drives this creepy story forward.
Perhaps there’s a presence waiting to be discovered as you stare down an entryway. It’s incredible what our imaginations can come up with – Skinamarink is here to be your canvas.
I made sure I watched Skinamarink in a dark room void of any distractions. One of the things I noticed with horror films is that we are so accustomed to specific setups. The audience can guess where things are coming from. With your film, there’s no allowance for that to happen. There are different camera angles, a fixed stop in a dark hallway, and many other things to keep your brain from rationalizing things.
Kyle: I come from the YouTube world, where you only have five minutes to work on playing with people’s expectation shot to shot. Some of it is intentional. Some of it is subconscious. There are parts where I think the audience is doing a little bit more heavy lifting. Then, there are parts where I consciously said, “let’s get into their head.”
As far as some of the jumpscares, they were very heavily engineered. From writing it to shooting it to the screen, my thought process was, “how can I get this jump to pay off?” Skinamarink has so few because they’re actually quite hard. A lot of people see jumpscares as cheap – don’t get me wrong, they can be. It took a while to get it to sell, and I even went through multiple cuts of a few of them to get them to the right place.
A lot of this film provides the general atmosphere – understanding the audience will fill in the blanks. Then there are other parts where I was trying to engineer something outside the jumpscares and have fun with building tension.
The film will transport you back to when you were younger, and darkness seemed to be the scariest thing you could encounter. Think about when you were little. Walking down a pitch-black hallway to the bathroom was terrifying. Darkness is a conduit for everything in Skinamarink. Especially with small children alone.
I have wanted to do a big scary house movie for a long time and was playing a little bit with the idea from my YouTube channel; people had kept commenting on the same nightmare they had when they were little. Think about being a little kid, home alone, and there’s a monster. A lot of those things just kept fermenting. I thought to myself, in most horror movies, we people in their 20s or 30s or people in their 20s playing teenagers. Then I was like, “what if we did something even more unique, like tiny kids?”
It would be challenging to cast, write and direct, but it could be rewarding. My sister is a daycare specialist and often has stories of how stressful it can be. I asked her one day, “well, why do you do it? “ She told me because it’s so rewarding at the same time. I applied that theory to the main characters in Skinamarink.
At various points in the film, things get taken away. There are two parts to the dread that manifests within your mind. The first is trying to find out why this house is so sinister. The second thing is a parental instinct to protect the children trapped inside this nightmare maze.
That was a fun thing to play with, too. When we see little kids in movies, we have a primal feeling of protection. And when the kids are so young and in peril, it does raise the stakes a little. One interesting thing is there’s a light-year difference between a four-year-old and a six-year-old. My sister and I were about that age apart, and the older sibling will click into the realities of the world a lot sooner. That was a fun thing to write.
Four-year-old Kevin is a lot more naive and ways than Kaylee – even though Kaylee doesn’t quite understand what’s happening. There are a few parts where they discuss their parents. It becomes evident that Kaylee has more mature feelings about maybe the mom or dad as she realizes sooner that her parents aren’t perfect.
The main plot of Skinamarink is ambiguous and left up to interpretation. Certain things occur, but fans of the film have gone down the rabbit hole with some intriguing theories. Interestingly, as much as this phenomenon is happening to Kaylee and Kevin together, there are also unique things they experience apart. It’s unsettling how varied focal points could be in the same house.
Two different characters in a movie can experience things very differently. By osmosis, the audience gets to have two different perspectives. The film became this fun melting pot of feelings, emotions, and ideas. Kaylee goes into an area, and we see her feelings and attitudes. At another point, we are with Kevin for a bit, and we become more naive again.
In my mind, Kaylee and Kevin were always two main characters with equal weight when I was writing the script. I don’t know if this is because of the movie or even just things like marketing as far as Kevin appearing on the poster. More people seem to be promoting Kevin as the star. That was surprising because I thought, “well, they have about the same amount of screen time.” I believe even Kaylee even has more lines. The character who I think might have the least amount of lines is the mother, but she has the most screen time just by fluke.
While a lot depends on what the audience sees in Skinamarink, the sound is also essential. There are lo-fi pitches that sometimes happen to signal a change in tone. Kaylee and Kevin start to whisper as the film goes on because they might be scared someone is listening.
Going back to my YouTube channel, I always had a lot of fun playing with sound. With Skinamarink, I did set a rule for the dialogue. To make it feel authentic, but also have a lot of whispering because that feels more like we’re in the moment and feels creepy. When I started editing, I had a lot of fun playing with the sound. There are parts where we’re in the root vicinity, and the kids talk normally. Then there are other parts where we’re peeking behind a corner – but they’re whispering as if they’re sitting next to us.
And there are other scenes where we have it played out realistically. So, we’re in the room, hearing it sound like we’re there. Afterward, we cut to another room and can’t listen to them anymore. It just sounds like a whisper.
Skinamarink will be released in theaters on Friday, January 13. Afterward, It will be available to stream on Shudder on February 2.