Skinamarink is a bizarre and disquieting film about interpreting the darkness with a young mind. The experimental film has many interpretations and in that, unifies its viewers to feel that special brand of fear from our youths. Gabe explains some of those theories and how the film successfully scares the pants off of you. Kat discusses childhood fears, how they're incredibly valid, and how to best help a child cope.
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Other Reviews on Skinamarink:
Skinamarink Ending Explained - who is the strange voice? | Ready, Ready, Cut
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Two children wake up in the middle of the night to find their father is missing, and all the windows and doors in their home have vanished.
Director Kyle Edward Ball
Skinamarink: Awakening Our Youthful Fears of the Dark by Gabe Castro
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
I watched Skinamarink in what I believe to be the best possible way. On a cold, gloomy, Monday night in a forgotten theater in New Jersey with one of my best friends. We were the only two in the theater, allowing us to fully experience the film, able to talk about what we were feeling in the moment, and try to make sense of the darkness. We curled into ourselves, hiding from the intense silence mixed with jarring sounds. Our interpretation of the world became twisted as rooms turned us upside down and plunged us into darkness. We quickly became concerned for the safety of the two kids on screen but also of our own safety in the deep dark theater. As the camera cut to other views, familiar hallways in the house, we could see them transform from the harmless dark house into a potential home of some unknown, not-quite-seen monster hiding safely in the dark.
Having rewatched the film at home with Kat midday, I can say with certainty that there was a magic present in my first watch that I lacked in the second. I worry that that may affect Kat’s interpretation or even the severity of the film. I am so glad Skinamarink got a theatrical release, though short, and would recommend surrounding yourself with friends in a darkened space, the sound turned up too high to get the full experience.
Skinamarink is a bizarre and disquieting film about interpreting the darkness with a young mind. Following two young siblings, Kevin (4 years old) and Kaylee (6 years old) as they discover their father missing, the doors and windows removed, and themselves ultimately alone in the darkness.
The film is experimental with strange angles, focusing the camera on areas we don’t often linger on in film or life. Because of these shots, focused on the corners above or below our standard vision, viewers are always left with only interpretations of the world around us. The film cycles through these stagnant shots bringing us to different areas of the house, sometimes with no rhyme or reason and often, against our will.
The story starts with Kevin wandering the halls after bedtime. We never see Kevin’s face and only catch glimpses of his feet or the back of his head. He sits in the hallway, looking up to someone or something before going to his sister’s room to ask to play. We hear a child counting as if playing Hide and Seek before a fall leads to a wailing cry. We can interpret that Kevin is then taken to the hospital while Kaylee waits at home. Upon their return, their father is heard on the phone with presumably their mother and informs them that Kevin had a fall but is okay, not even needing stitches. After this, the kids wake to find their father is gone. As they wander the house trying to figure out what to do next, they notice the doors and windows zap out of existence, replaced with wall. Then, the phone is disconnected leaving them truly alone in the home. They make camp in their living room, with only toys, snacks, a TV playing old cartoons and each other for company.
As the film progresses, the kids start to hear a strange voice that begins making requests of them in the darkness. It tells them to go upstairs, to go downstairs, to play with it, and even hurt themselves. Something is there in the darkness stealing their toys and eventually, even Kaylee’s face.
Viewers are left to interpret not only the story but what we’re seeing. The answers seem to be just out of view, if only we could fix the camera. Just outside of our periphery, is the darkness moving? Is there a face in that shadow? Is this voice real? What is happening to poor Kaylee and Kevin? Where is their dad? What happened to their mom? What does the “572 days” text at the end mean?! The beauty of films, especially something as experimental as Skinamarink, is that the answers are whatever you want them to be. In the end, Skinamarink, in forcing you to stare into the darkness, to be shrouded in the disquiet and jarring alarming noises, to drown in the VHS static on the screen, reduces us back to a childlike understanding of the world. It unlocks a horror unique to young brains, left to interpret the shadows as something potentially monstrous. When the film finished in the theater, we were frozen in our seats. The credits were in the beginning so there was no real indication that the film was over except for the absence of the VHS static on the screen. After we left, my friend Jeff and I both experienced a new relationship with the dark. The hallways and rooms of our own homes had transformed into new, uncertain, and terrifying spaces. We pondered if the hallway had always been this dark, this ominous, and full of potential for terror. I felt at once returned to a youthful consciousness of the world and of the moving shadows around us. I became aware of how I’d grown into either dismissing or simply not acknowledging darkness in my adulthood.
Because of the experimental nature of the film, there’s no one explanation for what is occurring on screen. The story is something viewers piece together for themselves. Director Kyle Edward Ball has not explained his own motives outside of confirming that everyone is right and wrong in their interpretation. "First of all, every fan theory is true, and every fan theory is false. Someone had a theory that I'm the monster. And then someone had a whole theory based around the dollhouse that appears in the movie, that they're all in the dollhouse. That's so neat, right?"
So if you, like me, were scrambling for some meaning behind the film to help shape what you’d seen into something understandable then here are some of the popular theories by fans online. Remember, these theories are all true and false, so feel free to find which story works best for your reasoning. Here there be spoilers!
Kevin’s Coma: One of the more popular theories stems from the opening scenes containing some of the only dialogue in the film. After Kevin has fallen and hurt himself, resulting in a quick hospital run, Kevin’s father tells someone on the phone that Kevin is fine. The theory people have come up with is that Kevin’s fall was very much not alright. Instead, Kevin’s fall caused damage to his brain and he is now in a coma. In an article on Signal Horizon, Skinamarink Explained- Child Abuse, Death, And The Monsters Of Our Youth, writer Tracey Palmer explains, “Kevin did fall down the stairs, but he is likely not okay. The poor child is almost certainly severely injured, and everything that happens from that point forward is the imagined nightmare of a damaged mind.” Further, Palmer connects Ball’s previous film, Heck, to this one as its spiritual successor saying, “One of Ball’s previous shorts, Heck, from which this movie was based, deals with the same subject matter, although in a slightly different manner. Everything from feeling trapped to the number of days displayed at the bottom of the screen late in the movie is an indication that the boy is in a coma and has been for over a year.”
The events that unfold after this call, the disappearing doors and windows, the voice in the dark, and some of the truly haunting scenes of discussions between Kaylee and her ‘parents,’ are explained as Kevin’s interpretation from his coma. He is trapped, much like he is in the film, unable to control his own body and forced to obey an unknown voice. The conversations he hears are of his loved ones, just out of reach and he is only receiving pieces of them. The repetitive cartoons on the TV could be what the family has left on for him while he is under, hoping to offer some comfort in this dark mental space. The idea is that the text of “572 days” is telling us how many days Kevin has been in a coma. At the end of the film, the Voice in the Dark tells Kevin to sleep. Perhaps asking Kevin to finally let go and move on.
Child Abuse: Another theory from viewers is even darker than Kevin’s coma. Based on the absence of their mother and a vehemence from Kaylee against even talking about her, it’s clear something scary has occurred between the children and their mother. The parents are clearly separated. When thinking of the phone call between their father and the person on the phone presumed to be their mom that he is letting them know as a courtesy. He starts the call with “Don’t freak out.” There is hesitance in his voice, an uncertainty as to what he will be met with when sharing this bad news. When the house first begins to change and the children are alarmed, they call out for their father, not their mother. This could be because they are staying with their father but this lack of love for mom is seen again when Kevin mentions their mom guessing that perhaps “Dad went where mom is.” Kaylee responds rather sharply, “I don’t want to talk about Mom.” For a child, abuse is often seen as something inescapable and silencing. This is expressed through the absence of the doors and windows and later by the removal of Kaylee’s mouth. The phone is disconnected because they cannot call for help.
In an article on Screenrant, Skinamarink’s Mysterious Voice Could Be Darker Than You Realize,writer Kevin Mikos hypothesizes, “Skinamarink doesn't give the audience many answers, but one interpretation of the mysterious voice is that it is representative of the missing parents. The voice acts in ways that emulate abusive parents, and may well serve as a stand-in for the missing parents. The kids are told what to do, and if they don't do it, they are harmed. The most horrific example of the abuse is when the voice tells Kaylee to stab herself in the eye, followed by a shot of blood appearing on a wall. The voice ensures the children that if they disobey, harm will be done to them anyway, such as an abusive parent might.”
Later, in one of the more unsettling scenes, Kaylee finds herself upstairs at the request of the Voice in the Dark. She enters her parent’s room and sees what appears to be her father sitting on the bed. He asks her to look under the bed and she does. It’s a tense scene of uncertainty, not knowing what we’ll see under there or on the bed when we come back up. She is told to look again and still sees nothing. When she sits back up, her father is gone but her mother is now sitting on the other side of the bed. Her mother has a disorienting and stuttering conversation with her that sounds reminiscent of a talk you’d have with your kids if you and your partner were separating.
More on Mom: Youtuber, Wendiigoon has a great analysis video titled, Skinamarink: A Forgotten Nightmare, about the relationship between the mother and the kids as well as how she remains a haunting, villainous form in the film luring the children to harm. Wendigoon explains that the mother may’ve been sick and died. In that same scene of the mom in the bedroom, the Mom tells Kaylee not to look. Of course she does and we hear this awful sound of bones crunching and groans from the mother in the closet. As we linger on the darkened doorway, a hand grasps out of the darkness, it is gnarled and unwell. Later, we see a figure much like the mother in areas of the house, only seeing the back of her head. At some point, she slowly fades into the background before things truly begin to spiral.
There is also the idea that perhaps the mother unalived herself. Evidence of this has been mentioned online on Reddit. A user pointed out a shot of a doll hanging from the ceiling and later, the “unsettling crunching noises” they described as the “sound of a neck snapping.” This insinuates that Mom hanged herself. She is most definitely gone, given Kevin’s comment about how dad “went with mom.” But perhaps she took her own life and their father is dealing with that grief. This could mean the father isn’t gone at all, but instead, is the very monster tormenting the children in his own inability to cope with the loss of her. It’s also possible that it’s the father who is the abuser after all. The mom is gone and at the hands of their father, whether by murder or divorce. Mom is gone and it’s dad’s fault. Children often see adults, especially parents, as being a stronger force unlike themselves, perhaps even a monstrous force that is controlling their lives. In the later half of the film, the Voice in the Dark tells Kevin that it took Kaylee’s mouth when she was asking for her parents and wasn’t doing as she was told. The taking of her mouth could quite literally be silencing her through action so she can’t speak up about the abuse.
Lost ending: Perhaps this unfortunate family have found themselves in a Lost situation. Lost being the television show about the plane crash that everyone predicted was about purgatory or limbo only for the showrunners to agree but disagree and make a complicated ending. Some viewers hypothesize that the entire family is actually dead and the children are the last to navigate this limbo to find their ultimate end. Spending 571 days in the in-between before their fate is decided, suspended in a not-quite-comforting “Good Place” to subdue them during the decision-making.
Whichever of the explanations you find helps you through the film is correct. Kyle Edward Ball succeeds when you leave the theater or however you’re viewing the film, reduced to a child, afraid of what’s right outside our vision, lingering the darkness and waiting to pounce. Having experienced that youthful appreciation and terror of the dark, I enjoyed the film. Ball explains this connection to a simplistic fear in the film saying, "I think it's hard not to identify so deeply with the story because we've all been little kids at some point, and we've all been afraid.” In that way, it is a unifying story with any number of endings and explanations, having us jump at the soft sounds we muted and creating figures where there had not been.
Afraid of the Dark: Understanding & Supporting Childhood Fears by Kat Kushin
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
The film covers heavy themes in an abstract way, focusing on the young mind and how they perceive the world around them. Children themselves in their development perceive the world much differently than adults. The world to young minds is overwhelming and vast, and hard to understand. As what is perceived visually, auditorily, and other sensory inputs are our brain's best guess to fill in the blank and rationalize our surroundings, adult brains have more context to pull from. Children view the world without that context, so the fear and anxiety that children experience may seem silly to the adult viewing them but is something very real for the child. What we see in the film is seemingly a child's first time entirely alone in a house, under the dark of night. As we covered in our very early Nightmares episode, the brain will manipulate darkness and silence to fit the things we understand and know. The film uses this and runs with it by placing dark grainy hallways in front of us, as well as quiet or vague soundscapes that play upon our brain’s tendency to fill in the blank space. Just knowing we are watching a horror movie, the brain fills that space with perceived horror.
Similarly, children’s minds, absent of the context of lived experience, apply this method of perceptions based on emotional cues. The greater the gap in understanding and contextual data, the scarier an experience can become for a child. When taking situations that are overwhelming sensory wise, children will fill these spaces with things they do not yet have the understanding around, and therefore see things that would otherwise feel mundane as horrifying. Especially with the absence of a parental or peer sounding board. Being alone for a small child can be very scary when all their needs are not able to be self managed. This is why neglect is so mentally and physically damaging for small children, as the absence of a protective figure always has the possibility of resulting in loss of life. The film itself plays upon this further, by taking a house and morphing it into a horrific and endlessly expanding maze. The voice of a stranger, although positioned as an adult authority figure, is very terrifying and threatening to the children in the film.
Fear surrounding darkness and things that are outside of standard perception are common in both children and adults but the differences are around the understanding of perceived vs real threats. An adult may fear the dark but rationalize that that fear is only a perceived threat and not a real one. Understanding that in running up the steps after turning out the light, there is not something chasing them. A child has a harder time telling the difference between the two, as their minds have had less time to cognitively develop. Krystal Lewis, a clinical psychologist and researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, noted that people may experience fears of the dark, "due to the things they see or hear about, thoughts in their head (or) bad things they may have experienced." She also said some people "have a biological predisposition to fear and anxiety which could manifest at night." Children are naturally inclined to fill empty space with their imaginations, so the capacity for this fear can be instinctual and without known cause if there is a generational trauma as a cause. What occupies their imaginations are filled with the context given by their parents, things they see, as well as instinct. What they fear additionally is usually but not exclusively influenced by what they witness and see. In an article on the Better Health Channel Titled Anxiety and fear in children, they unpack the way fear impacts children at different developmental stages.
The article goes on to outline the different stages, ranging from 6 months to children of primary school age, and offers recommendations based on the age classifications on how to support them in their fears. The things that stood out most to me were the influences of genetic susceptibility, and environmental factors that impact a child in the development of their fears. In the 6 to 7 month category, the majority of the fears revolve around separation anxiety, and primarily have to do with their caregiver relationships. The child is also more likely to be fearful of strangers, and anyone outside of their primary caregivers. Communication is listed as the best support method, ensuring the child understands the location and proximity of their caregiver, as well as when to expect them to be around. The understanding on the child’s end depends on method of communication, but it recommends vocally or physically communicating your location to the child to alleviate anxiety when not in close proximity. As children grow, so do their fears. The fears of a toddler are more emotionally motivated, as well as imagination motivated. In learning about the world around them, their fears could be motivated by their perceived danger, irrational or otherwise, around becoming hurt or lost. Their lack of understanding around spacial awareness creates threats out of things that adults know logically could never happen, but without the context of lived experience, a toddlers mind can create more scenarios. “Toddlers have a limited understanding of size and may develop seemingly irrational fears, such as falling down the plughole or toilet.” To support a toddler, communication is also the recommended method, centering it on their feelings, validating them, and diffusing stress through contextual information. It is strongly recommended to avoid forcing a child to face their fears at this age, as it is possible to make the fear more intense. Allowing the child to learn at their own pace, and accepting that they may experience fear of said thing for a while. Common fears for children of primary school age
As a child learns more about the world, the list of things they fear tends to grow. Some fears are real and some are imaginary. Common fears include fear of the dark, burglary, war, death, separation or divorce of their parents, and supernatural beings (such as ghosts and monsters). Suggestions for helping your child include:
Let your child know that you take their fears seriously.
Give your child truthful information on topics such as death or war, and let them know you are willing to answer any questions.
Encourage your child to confront the object of their fear, such as dogs, one step at a time at their own pace. For example, perhaps start with pictures, then try a very small, gentle dog that is tied up, so the child decides how close to get.
Allow your child some control. For example, if they are afraid of intruders, make shutting and locking their bedroom window one of their night-time responsibilities.
Daily routines and rituals give a child a sense of stability and security, and may ease general anxiety.
Fear of the dark
Many children are afraid of the dark. A toddler or preschooler tends to be afraid of unfamiliar things that they don’t understand or can’t control. Their active imaginations, and their inability to always distinguish between reality and fantasy, means they may believe that monsters are under the bed or in the wardrobe waiting to spring once the light goes out. If not addressed, a child’s fear of the dark may linger and continue to disrupt their bedtime routine and sleeping habits. There are many ways that parents can help their child to overcome a fear of the dark.
Helping a child who is afraid of the dark
As with other fears, it is important to handle a child’s fear of the dark with sympathy and understanding. Do not ridicule or dismiss your child’s feelings, or become frustrated and angry. The first step in helping your child to overcome their irrational fear is to accept their feelings as real and respond to them sensitively. Suggestions include:
Ask them to tell you about their fears and what exactly makes them afraid.
Show your child that you understand their fears, but that you don’t necessarily share them.
Reassure them that they are safe; explain there are no such things as monsters.
Don’t try to reassure your child by checking in the cupboard or under the bed as this may suggest to the child that you believe monsters could be there.
If your child is afraid of the dark because of the possibility of intruders, it may help to show them the security measures around the house, such as locks. However, never lock a deadlock while people are inside the house, as it may block escape in a fire or other emergency.
Ask your child for suggestions on what would make them feel more secure. Offer suggestions yourself. Perhaps they would feel better if they took a special toy or comforter to bed.
Find out if their fear of the dark comes from other worries. For example, some children may be afraid of their parents separating or dying, and this anxiety gets worse when they are alone in the dark. Talk to your child honestly about such issues.
General suggestions for fear of the dark
Practical ways to deal with your child’s fear of the dark include:
Establish a bedtime routine that your child finds relaxing and enjoyable. Predictable bedtime routines help to reduce anxiety.
Put a nightlight in your child’s room, or let some light from the hallway or other nearby source filter into their room.
A child’s fear tends to lessen if they feel they have some control over a situation. For example, put a lamp by their bedside so they can switch on the light themselves. Use a low-wattage bulb.
Make sure their television viewing habits and reading materials are appropriate to their age. News footage, movies or scary books can easily frighten a child.
Look around their room at night and try to see things from their perspective. Is there a picture or toy that may cast a shadow or look creepy in the half-light?
Regular exercise helps to reduce stress levels. Make sure your child has plenty of physical activity during the day.
Don’t make a big deal or fuss about your child’s fear in front of them or other people, in case they feel more anxious about it.
Don’t make fun of or belittle their fear.
There are many books on managing childhood fears, both for the parents and the child.
Reinforce positive behaviour. Allow your child to make small steps towards overcoming their fear and compliment them on each achievement. Whenever they accomplish a step, such as not jumping out of bed the minute you tuck them in, reward them. Toddlers respond well to simple reward systems, such as stickers or stamps on a wall chart.
Professional help for fear and anxiety in children
Sometimes a child is so fearful that it interferes with their daily life and play. Seek professional help if you consider your child is particularly burdened with fears or phobias. Children can be taught how to manage their own anxiety, and parents can learn helping strategies.
According to one study, 43% of children between ages 6 and 12 had many fears and concerns. A fear of darkness, particularly being left alone in the dark, is one of the most common fears in this age group.