Edmonton-made viral horror film heads to theatres

· The Pulse

Film-goers will soon get a chance to see the homegrown horror sensation Skinamarink in theatres, as the low-budget, highly scary movie gets a legitimate release after going viral in pirated form online.

The film's trailer caused a modest stir in some online circles early in 2022 and again that summer. The entire film ended up leaking during a European festival tour after a third-party provider hosting films for virtual viewings was hacked.

"I was in a panic when it happened," writer and director Kyle Edward Ball told Taproot. "I thought it would ruin the formal release of the film."

His distributor assured him the future of the film was still bright, and it continued to blow up online. "I was upset the film had been pirated, but in the end, I was still thrilled that so many people loved the movie," Ball said.

The film was acquired by horror streaming service Shudder and secured a theatrical run via IFC Midnight, which will bring it to select theatres in various cities, including Edmonton at Metro Cinema on Jan. 13, 14, and 18.

Getting Skinamarink seen across Canada, the U.S., the UK, and Australia is "a dream come true," said Ball. Screening it at home, where he shot it for about $15,000 on equipment borrowed from the Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta, will be an experience, especially on opening night.

"I'm excited for the Metro screening but a bit nervous about doing a cast and crew Q&A," he said. "I have no problem talking to an audience of complete strangers, but talking to an audience of people in my hometown somehow makes me very nervous."

In its year-end review, the Edmonton Screen Industries Office highlighted the release of Skinamarink as "something to look forward to." Executive producer Edmon Rotea hopes it will inspire others to create.

"Skinamarink is proof to aspiring and emerging filmmakers in Edmonton and around the world that you don't need big-budget, expensive cameras, famous actors, and lots of money to make a feature film — just a strong dedication to your creative vision and supportive friends, family, and a community who are willing to support and nurture your vision to fruition," he said.

A scene from Skinamarink, featuring a child sitting in the dark, faintly lit in blue and looking off-screen

Skinamarink's premise is simple and terrifying: "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." (YouTube)

The genesis of Skinamarink can be credited in part to the online community. "I've always wanted to do a 'big scary house' movie. I think most horror directors do," said Ball, who started a YouTube channel called Bitesized Nightmares in 2016 on which people would suggest nightmares for him to recreate.

"After doing that for a while, I noticed people kept describing a similar dream they remembered from childhood: 'I'm between 6 and 10 years old. I'm at my house. My parents are missing, and a monster is after me.' This idea stuck in my head. Over time, perhaps by accident, I developed it into Skinamarink."

The movie has tapped into "a zeitgeist of contemporary events," posited Rotea.

"(The) film touches upon themes of isolation, loneliness, abandonment, divorce, trauma, death, and many fears that social media users may have experienced in their own childhoods, like being afraid of the dark, ghosts, and the unknown," he said. "It is a film about being home alone — with just your older sister, toys, and the glow of a TV screen to keep you company — with uncertainty and trepidation of what happened to your parents."

The film may also resonate as a reflection of the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, "when many people may have felt trapped and socially and physically isolated in their own homes," Rotea added.

The movie's title will sound familiar to those who grew up watching children's entertainers Sharon, Lois, and Bram on TV. However, the title "doesn't really mean anything," Ball said.

"Before I started writing the movie, I was trying to come up with a working title. One day I was watching an old movie and noticed kids in the movie singing the song. It surprised me because I had always assumed Sharon, Lois, and Bram had created the song. I researched it and found the song dated back to the early 20th century and may have been even older. The word stuck in my head. It's sentimental, feels personal, feels personal to others, has a weird ring to it, has a childlike connotation, and also is a nonsense word."

Skinamarink took two years to make, starting with a proof-of-concept short film called Heck was developed and filmed in just under a year. Another year was spent developing, crowdfunding, writing, shooting, and editing Skinamarink. The shoot itself only took seven days, "eight if you count a one-day camera test," added Ball.

Rotea refers to Skinamarink as a "calling card" because it is the first feature film for most of the cast and crew, including Ball and himself. "We hope Skinamarink will raise our profile as filmmakers, making it easier to get opportunities and funding to pursue and work on more film projects in the near future," he said.

Ball, who is already working on other film projects, said he hopes Edmonton audiences like the movie and "find it sufficiently unsettling. That's really what I hope all audiences feel after watching Skinamarink."

Rotea believes the success of Skinamarink reflects Ball's integrity as an artist. "I am most proud of Kyle for staying true to himself and the film that he wanted to make," he said. "Skinamarink is a testament to Kyle's creative passion for filmmaking, resiliency, friendship, making a film, not just for money, profit, and fame, but because of a strong desire to create and express yourself."