In the Evening Underneath the Moon
Directed by Kyle Edward Ball
Starring Lucas Paul, Dali Rose Tetreault, Jaime Hill
Released February 2nd, 2023
Kyle Edward Ball is a filmmaker known for making short films from descriptions of bad dreams sent in by viewers of his YouTube channel Bite-sized Nightmares. One of these shorts, Heck, is the basis for his first feature-length film Skinamarink, which he wrote, edited, and directed. Do you remember how huge and scary your house felt when your parents would leave you alone as a young child? Ball taps into the familiar and mundane becoming unfamiliar and fantastical as his film centers on two young children left alone in their house.
Right away things are askew. We only see four-year-old Kevin (Lucas Paul) and six-year-old Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) from the torso down. We only hear their father (Ross Paul) as he starts a car and drives away offscreen. Something has happened to their mother (Jaime Hill). Was she injured? Has she died? The children are left to fend for themselves. They witness their toilet disappear. The house’s windows disappear. Their front door vanishes. There is no escape for them. There are no adults to help. Too many days pass. Innocuous public domain cartoons play on repeat on their television until the sound effects take on a sinister tone. Then a dark voice begins to speak to them. The disembodied voice asks them to come upstairs, to look under the bed. In addition to tapping into the primal fear of the dark, Skinamarink makes connections to childhood abuse that may be triggering for those of us who suffered trauma in our formative years.
Ball asks the viewer to succumb to a low-fi rhythm comprised of static shots of doorframes, obscured lamps, discarded Lego sets, and faces you can barely make out in the shadows. If you’ve played the video games Silent Hill 2 or the original Resident Evil, you’ll recognize the oppressive fear that comes with empty spaces. Your imagination works harder, filling the void with terrible visions.
While the movie’s visual style recalls Paranormal Activity as everything is bathed in a washed-out blue light, this is not a found footage film. It owes a greater debt to David Lynch’s mood piece Inland Empire, specifically its long walks down dark hallways. Ball blends Generation Z’s affinity for subtitles and ASMR with horror video game POVs and Creepypasta storytelling to create a slow burn campfire tale that feels fresh. I appreciate that Skinamarink features elements from other media that we haven’t seen utilized much in movies. I believe the film will prove influential as other filmmakers eventually use some of the more effective aspects for their own work. Skinamarink is so well done and so fully realized a portrait of childhood fears that I can’t say I outright disliked the film, but I will say I did not find it to be very frightening. I admire the technical artistry on display, but I wanted more scares than were offered. Still, there is a scene featuring the shadowy reveal of a toy telephone that is truly one for the ages.
The title of the film comes from an old song popular with children. Ball spelled his film’s title differently, so young people searching for the song online wouldn’t find his scary film by accident. I vaguely remember Skinnamarink as sung by the Canadian children’s music group Sharon, Lois, and Bram. But I advise you to beware listening to that catchy song, as it will become an earworm that will haunt you for days. Not unlike Ball’s unnerving film.