Talking nightmares, film leaks, and inspiration with the creator of the viral work
It’s not often we get a fresh voice in horror who makes a film that feels like nothing we have seen before. But Skinamarink, the debut film by Kyle Edward Ball, is one of those films. It’s a grainy, experimental nightmare that feels like Ball channeled it from the deepest, darkest corners of the subconscious. In Skinamarink, two children wake up in the middle of the night to find their father is missing and that all the windows and doors in their home have vanished. The film’s effectiveness relies on Ball using every tool at his disposal to create a film that burrows into your most primordial fears and turns them against you.
The film rather infamously blew up on TikTok last year after leaking during its festival run and garnered a substantial cult following before it was even released, which has to be both a blessing and a curse for its young director. I got to chat with Ball in anticipation for Skinamarink’s theatrical debut this Friday the 13th with a run on SHUDDER starting February 2nd. We chat about about what that experience was like making the film, where this film came from, and what he has in store in the future.
Cinapse: This film’s loose narrative feels like it’s channeled from a lost memory. Where to even start with what drove you to create such an unconventional piece of cinema?
Kyle Edward Ball: I think every horror director, when they’re little, wants to do a big scary house movie and there’s different shades of that. You could say Ridley Scott’s Alien is a big scary house movie, but in space, right? So I always wanted to do that.
Then when I started doing my YouTube channel in my mid-twenties, I discovered people would comment [about] the same dreams, and I would recreate them. The most common dream that people would comment, is the same thing: I’m a little kid, I’m in my house, I’m alone and there’s a monster, and that would just foment in my mind. Other memories from childhood would foment in my mind. And even things like Carrie, Black Christmas, The Shining, The Musician, The Caretaker, and other analog horror on YouTube were just kind of fermenting, and that’s what led to Skinamarink.
Cinapse: It’s weird how people have those connections to these things that we saw when we were kids.
Ball: Yeah, like memories are formed, maybe not vividly, but so strongly and emotionally in that era and they kind of stick with us forever.
Cinapse: The film has this look like it’sa fifth generation VHS tape recorded from the subconscious. What was the idea behind the aesthetic of the film and how did you arrive at it?
Ball: Other YouTubers have been playing with the lo-fi aesthetic for years now, and as I was doing my channel, if you watch the first video I did, there’s a little bit of grain because of the camera work, but that’s it. Over time I leaned in more and more to the lo-fi aesthetic as far as grain, low quality sound, et cetera. After a while I said, what’s stopping me from making a feature like this?
Other filmmakers have done stuff like this too. So Ti West did House of the Devil. And I really want to see this too, there’s this movie out of the U.K. called Enys Men that feels like, it’s almost like the writing about Skinamarink. It’s set in the ‘70s—well I know mine’s set in 1995, but it it’s the early ‘70s’ aesthetic.
I really wanted it to look and feel like a movie from the ‘70s’. And at some point I said, why not set it in 1995? ‘Cause why not? So I did that and I wanted it to really feel, look, and sound like a movie from the ‘70s, which is harder than it sounds, because you really have to play with it. I didn’t want it to feel like The Exorcist, like something that was preserved. I wanted it to feel more like a movie that had been lost, and was grainy and not remastered. Maybe you had found a videotape at some point at the video store and didn’t know anything about it.
Cinapse: You even used that against the viewer too, which I really liked, how because of the lack of clarity of the image, your mind can fill in the blanks and that’s scarier than what’s actually there.
Cinapse: The film blew up on TikTok, which was in part due to the film leaking. Did that play a part in your Shudder deal? What was that like for you as a filmmaker—you had to be a bit heart broken, but it found this audience?
Ball: Yeah, for sure.
So, I wanna be clear, just for other aspiring filmmakers in the future, we had gotten our Shudder deal shortly after the Fantasia screening. So the ink was dry on that well before the film leaked.
I don’t want people in the future to be like, oh, well, look at what happened to Skinamarink. I’ll just leak my own movie and I can still get a deal with Shudder. You might be able to get deals, but it’s trickier.
Ball: So we had the Shudder deal, and originally it was going to be released on Halloween 2023, and then we played a festival in Europe. I don’t wanna name the festival because I don’t think it’s the festival’s fault and I still think this is a great festival. But by accident, it was leaked through their online portal and the weeks following that, I was terrified that the Shudder deal would be in jeopardy.
Now, after about three weeks of having a meltdown, Shudder contacted me and said, “Look, we know about the leak. We still love and wanna support the movie, so don’t worry Kyle, don’t panic.” Which was great. Shudder and IFC Films have been great through this whole process.
But it started blowing up and it put me in a very difficult mind space, because the more people talked about it, the more it got pirated and I felt like I just wanted people to stop talking about it. So we could kind of put the genie back in the bottle, so to speak. At first I was angry at people pirating it, but then people would send me fan art and say, “I love your movie so much, it’s so beautiful.”
It blew up in Brazil! And someone on Twitter changed their Twitter handle in Brazil to the president of the Kyle Edward Ball fan club in Portuguese, because someone made a Portuguese fan sub of it. So, in closing, what I’m gonna say is that, I’m not happy that it got pirated, but I’m incredibly grateful that it found life online and people love it. Because that’s the honest truth. I’m happy people love it. And if you pirated it and watched it and fell in love with it, I’m happy that you love the movie.
Cinapse: When anyone asks me to describe the film, I refer to it as cinematic alchemy, because you’re using everything from the sound design to the theatrical experience against the viewer to curate this experience.
Are you worried the film will play differently if, let’s say, someone watches it on a laptop while they’re doing their homework?
Ball: Okay. So I’m gonna say, not just for my movie, but horror movies and movies in general, I get that there’s some things you can have on in the background, like an episode of Judge Judy, but a horror movie demands your full and undivided attention. So a horror movie, whether you’re watching it on a laptop, in the theater, or on your big screen TV, you need the lights off, you need distractions away from you, and you need to experience it.
There’s exceptions, right? There’s a handful of like, for example, horror comedies like Deadstream. Watch with all your mates, have some drinks and have a good time. Right? But a movie like Skinamarink and other horror movies like The Shining, Black Christmas—The Shining is a bit different because I’ve seen it 10 times. So I can be a little bit more casual about it, but you’re gonna want to watch in the dark with no distractions, ideally late at night, to get the full experience.
I’ve heard a lot of people say, “I’ve watched this through a press screener at Fantasia on my laptop and it terrified me,” and I don’t doubt that. I bet it is scary in that way. But the Fantasia screening, the world premiere, I just watched the audience instead of the movie the whole time, and they were terrified by it. So definitely, if you can afford to and it’s playing at a theater near you, try to watch it in the theater.
Cinapse: One thing I found really interesting is some of the younger adults who are watching this probably have never seen static or witnessed a television station go off the air. Why do you think this imagery still resonates so well with our fear centers?
Ball: Well I will say, Gen Z is very sophisticated in some of their aspects of media literacy, and that’s shown in their uptake of “analog horror” on YouTube. So even if you didn’t grow up with VHS or you were just coming-of-age as it was on its way out, it’s still such a powerful medium in some ways.
If I could just say something about grain.
Ball: You know when it’s really dark and you open your eyes, your brain creates grain, right. So it could be a subconscious thing like that. But I think “analog horror” is such an amazing thing. A lot of people my age or younger even like to watch movies that are much older because of the way it makes you feel. Watching a Universal Monsters movie from the ‘30s elicits different emotions just from the way it’s made, presented, restored, or not restored in a way that a crystal clear, 4K surround sound movie doesn’t.
That’s not to say anything disparaging about those movies. I love seeing a movie like Everything Everywhere All at Once on a big screen in crystal-clear 4K and surround sound, because that’s an experience in itself. But old movies, analog movies, tape movies, they all create different feelings.
I think it’s a fallacy to assume that we can be one hundred percent objective, as far as what the movie’s saying, when really sometimes the medium it plays on does play a factor and sometimes enriches the movie in weird ways.
Cinapse: Agreed. A hundred percent.
So what’s next? How do you follow this up?
Ball: (laughs) I had a few ideas for movies and I told a few people and the more I told them, the more out of love I came to think of them. So I have another handful of ideas that have been batting around in my mind.
Originally, I wanted to already be writing the follow-up feature, but because the movie’s release date got pushed up so early, which has kind of been cool, I haven’t had time to think and stew on it as much. So I think I’m gonna start writing the follow-up maybe this summer. Hopefully we will it in pre-production fairly soon after that and then shooting it maybe, if not 2023, then early 2024, and then hopefully release the same year. Who knows?
Skinamarink is on Shudder Friday, Jan. 13 and in theaters now.