Friday the 13th is a bit of a sacred holiday for horror fans, not just because it calls to mind an iconic slasher franchise starring everyone’s favorite hockey mask wearing killer, but because it’s a special day to celebrate (or avoid) classic fears and superstitions. Acting almost like a cousin to the main macabre holiday, Halloween, Friday the 13th is a date of darkness and bad luck, curses and black cats, broken glass and unfortunate accidents.
So if you’re going to try and come out with a brand new horror movie on that particular day, it had better do its damndest to live up to it. Skinamarink, an experimental, lofi haunted house tale from IFC Midnight and Shudder, is the latest to make the attempt. It’s not hard to see why a theatrical release for this film was pushed so hard before its yet-to-be-announced streaming premiere on Shudder. The terror and dread that Skinamarink conjures up is unlike anything you’ll experience this year.
The film follows a pair of young children, Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault), who wake one night to discover that their father is missing. As the siblings attempt to keep calm and wait for his return by staying up and watching old cartoons, they realize that things throughout their house, like doors and windows, are mysteriously disappearing. And what’s worse, somewhere in the dark of the home, beyond the supposed safety of the television’s glow, lies a sinister presence that’s calling out to them.
Skinamarink is the feature debut of Kyle Edward Ball, a Canadian filmmaker who cut his teeth making shorts and uploading them online to YouTube. Ball has been analyzing, deconstructing and recreating nightmares for years on his channel, Bitesized Nightmares, in his uniquely analog and minimalist style.
Ball’s horror films are far more about atmosphere and implication than gore and jump scares. There’s a focus on crafting an ominous and chilling sense of the creeps instead of just screaming in your face. Skinamarink is the culmination of Ball’s years spent in the realm of slowburning nightmares and liminal spaces; a horror experience so transportive that it becomes both of those things at once.
Read our full review of 'Skinamarink' - The Year's Scariest Movie May Already Be Here
Shot in his childhood home back in Edmonton, Canada, on a small and almost entirely crowdfunded budget, Ball has tapped into a very specific yet eerily universal experience we have growing up; those times when the fear of the dark and the unknown feels so big that it could just swallow you up. When it’s the middle of the night and the walls of your room suddenly don’t feel as familiar.
It’s your imagination that Skinamarink is taking advantage of and using against you, scaring you far more with what’s not there than what actually is. Since its premiere at last year’s Fantasia Film Festival, the film has steadily become an online legend of sorts, with thousands declaring it to be the scariest movie they’ve ever seen. Some even swear that it’s cursed.
We sat down with Ball on the eve of Skinamarink’s theatrical release to discuss the making of his lofi horror sensation, his various filmmaking influences and how he’s always been inspired to take the old and turn it into something new.
Skinamarink comes out in theaters tomorrow. How are we feeling about the journey this film has been on?
Kyle Edward Ball: I feel great. But most importantly, I feel exhausted. When you make a movie, you always dream that it has a response like this. And this was what I had always hoped for. But there's other details that they don't prepare you for, like how you're gonna lose a ton of sleep. So it's been a journey.
I'm sure you've heard a lot of people say that this is one of those movies that you watch in the middle of the night, alone on your laptop, with earbuds in and everything. What do you find are the benefits of seeing this movie on the big screen with an audience versus alone in your room?
Kyle Edward Ball: The first big theatrical screening we had was this last summer at Fantasia and the audience was blown away by it because they had never seen a thing like this on a big screen. I think watching a movie on your laptop with headphones on can be an incredibly powerful and rewarding experience. But this movie feels like being whispered to in the dark for 100 minutes and occasionally being punched in the gut. Like, it's a powerful thing to watch on a big screen, too. So if you can, see it on a big screen.
I think everyone has that one defining moment where they saw a scary movie that they definitely weren't old enough to watch and it kind of changed everything for them growing up. Skinamarink feels like it could very easily be that kind of film for a new generation. Did you have that kind of formative experience with a particular movie growing up?
Kyle Edward Ball: I did. My parents were, all things being equal, fairly liberal with what they let us watch in regards to horror because, I think this was kind of true, me and my sister were quite precocious. And we were, I think, a bit more mature for what we could accept watching at a younger age. I think my parents made the equation that horror was just its own thing. “They know that the gore isn't real.” So when I was eight, The Shining was playing on TV and my parents were like, “Oh, the kids will love this.” And they were correct. I loved it. Another year, CBC was doing an Alfred Hitchcock marathon, so that was a neat thing. That definitely changed my perspective of showering - watching Psycho. And birds for that matter.
Are there any more modern inspirations behind this movie, despite it being in a 90s setting and having that kind of analog style?
Kyle Edward Ball: I have been influenced by analog horror on the internet, although not as much as people would think. I like analog horror, but I'm not so steeped in it that it had as much of an influence on the movie that people would think. But there are things, right? So people have been playing with using subtitles instead of clear dialogue in analog horror for a while and I put that into the movie. One big influence on me as far as form over function would be the Marble Hornets series, which was the YouTube series that started the Slender Man mythos. That always had an impact on me as far as telling a story via the medium, where the medium is the message.
This analog horror style weirdly feels like it can only exist in the modern day. Its creation and popularity comes from the online world. It's a really weird relationship between the analog and the digital.
Kyle Edward Ball: Yeah, it's weird, because I've had people say, “Well, this is so fresh.” And it's ironic because, like, a lot of the scenes in the movie, when I was talking with my DOP, I'm like, “Okay, so this is my Black Christmas shot,” which I think is now coming up on its 50 year anniversary. So it's that weird thing where we almost have to go back just to create something new, right? And there's other things too, there's this musician called The Caretaker out of the UK who takes like 1920s, 1930s ballroom music and repurposes it and mashes that up and makes it something completely new and disturbing and powerful. So sometimes you have to go back to go forwards. Even Slender Man - that's the Pied Piper story, right? That's even going back to the Middle Ages.
This film and other films like it feel like an out of body experience. To me this is a film that really transports you. Once you kind of get into its wavelength - you're there. Are there any kinds of music or artists that you listen to or have listened to that have that same effect?
Kyle Edward Ball: I did already mention The Caretaker and I was listening to The Caretaker a lot during this, but one artist - that I'm surprised hasn't quite broken into the mainstream - is this witch house artist called BLVCK CEILING. And because it's witch house, they do this music where they - and I know they're not the only artists that do this - they do these remixes of pop songs but do it in the opposite end where instead of making it more dancey they make it almost less dancey and more kind of ethereal and strange. They take it and deconstruct it and make it its own strange, creepy thing. It just creepifies stuff. So, BLVCK CEILING and The Caretaker I would say were huge things that I was listening to throughout the production of Skinamarink.
Sound design is key for any horror movie but it feels especially prudent with this. What was the process like for capturing the right soundscape?
Kyle Edward Ball: From the get-go, I wanted it to not just look like an old movie, but sound like it. So I set some rules for myself to make it work. So A, we recorded all the dialogue as ADR instead of traditionally. Then B, all of the sound effects were pulled from somewhere. So I didn't really record any Foley outside of footsteps, which was a pain. The rest of it was all taken from a library and I stumbled upon this sound effects library of sounds from the 50s and 60s that fit like a glove for this production because they sounded so old. Then once I had all my clips in a row, I went to work on making it sound old. I spoke with my friend Tom, who's kind of an audio guy, and he helped me set up effects to make it sound like it was recorded and processed on old audio systems. Another thing I did was, for a lot of it, I consciously didn't use reverb, because when mixing old movies in the 60s and 70s, they didn't have Adobe Audition to apply the perfect reverb for an area. So they would have to do other things to make it sound like oh, this audio was recorded in this environment. And sometimes they didn't even have that option. So you'll watch an old movie and the audio will be ADR, and clearly they're not in the environment, right? They would have to do other things like play with muffling it or sharpening up the audio and it was a cool process. So I would do stuff with that.
Both visually and sound-wise, this film plays tricks on your eyes and your ears. During the making of this movie, did you find yourself kind of seeing or hearing things that weren't actually there either while filming it or while editing it?
Kyle Edward Ball: It was weird. Most of it just felt like work. If you steep yourself in horror so much, it starts to feel like a job. But there were a handful of times, particularly when I was editing it, where I did creep myself out. There were times where I squigged myself out. There’s one shot in the movie where one of the characters has a conversation on the phone and then we cut to a few hours later where we're in the same room, but it's dark. And there's something in the frame that I don't remember filming. Like, there's something by the couch. And okay, there is a good chance it's my hoodie, but like it could be something else. I don’t know what that is.
Like something made its way in.
Kyle Edward Ball: Yeah, there was something there.
'Skinamarink' is now playing in theaters and will stream exclusively on Shudder later this year.