“Skinamarink” from writer-director Kyle Edward Ball is like the last 10 minutes of “The Blair Witch Project” stretched out over the course of an entire film. Inspired by the 1974 cult classic “Black Christmas” and the avant-garde film “Wavelength” the film tells the story of four-and-six-year-old siblings who wake up in their two-story home and discover their father missing. Windows and doors begin to vanish while voices speak to them from beyond the darkness. To do the film justice, catch it in a theatre to experience the full impact of its nightmarish scenario.

Ball’s debut film leaves a lot to the imagination and there’s nothing more frightening than our own thoughts and nightmares. “Skinamarink” has an amorphous style that requires your participation to fill in the blanks. When a mysterious voice tells four-year-old Kevin (Lucas Paul) to take a knife and insert it into his eye, our minds race to imagine who or what is influencing an innocent child. Meanwhile, random objects appear on the walls and ceiling including Legos, a doll, and a VHS tape.

The low-budget horror film uses the film’s soundscape profusely in a place of a score to develop tension. Loud thumps, muted voices, undistinguishable sounds, and occasional distortion contrast the whispering of the young siblings. Several times during the film Ball raises the volume to a heightened level as in a paranormal show where they playback an EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) of a captured spirit’s voice, resulting in a sound similar to an old vinyl record with pops and scratches.

“Skinamarink” follows the found-footage formula, grainy video, and total darkness, to establish the tone. Set in 1995, the glow of bulky television screens often showing vintage Max Fleischer and Merrie Melodies cartoons (available in the public domain) are used to light the landscape along with flashlights that click on and off. Doors, windows, and toilets begin disappearing in the large two-story home as Kevin and his sister Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) search for their parents in the darkness. Occasionally they encounter one of their parents sitting on the edge of a bed, facing the corner (in true “Blair Witch” style), instructing them to “look under the bed” or “close your eyes”, perfect cues to sink deeper in your theatre seat.

Shot in Ball’s Edmonton, Canada childhood home, “Skinamarink” is an invitation to step into a nightmare. There is no rhyme or reason (like most hellish dreams) to the film, but it does one thing effectively, it scares the s—t out of you. And just like a thrill ride, when it’s over you want to buy another ticket to experience it all over again.

(3 ½ stars)

Now showing in theaters

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Joe Friar head and shoulders

Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.