Making the rounds in underground horror circles, “Skinamarink” has some saying it’s a total borefest and others proclaiming this to be one of the scariest movie experiences they’ve ever had.
Written and directed by Kyle Edward Ball, set in 1995 and shot in a way that feels as though you are watching a low-fi home movie, “Skinamarink” follows two small children who wake up in the middle of the night to find their father is missing and all the doors and windows of their house are gone. Not shot in real time but unfortunately feeling like it is, what we get is a movie where we never see the children’s faces and are left to watch this story play out through a series of blurry shots of the ceiling, corners of the living room, dark hallways and a television set playing old cartoons, as the kids speak off-screen attempting to piece together what is going on. Their voices are also accompanied by ambient “house noises” and overmodulated and warbled sounds that mimic the playback of an old VHS cassette tape recording.
I get it. That all sounds wildly unwatchable. But shockingly it’s not, as Ball constructs these visuals in a way that delivers on that creepy feeling of watching something we shouldn’t be watching.
Slow to start, Ball does establish a clear story which captured my curiosity early on. And while I didn’t care for the final twenty minutes of “Skinamarink”, which ditches the plot entirely and ventures off into this purely experimental realm of confusing sights and sounds and “cool camera tricks” (and there is nothing in this that could justify the hour and forty-minute runtime), there was definitely a few segments where I could clearly see the film’s full potential as a horror that would make you think twice about checking for monsters under your bed.
When replaying this movie over in my head, I’m acutely aware that not much happens after a certain point. I am also aware that for much of this movie I watched it with my stomach clenched and at times through my fingers. And for me, this is a huge part of what makes a scary movie work.
I’ve seen some reviews label “Skinamarink” as art, as in it’s more of an “art piece” than a movie made for entertainment purposes. But I truly believe the filmmaker’s intent was to create a disturbing horror on par with something like “Paranormal Activity”, while also attempting to hold true to his low-budget, “what if David Lynch directed “Poltergeist”” vision. While I don’t believe this experiment will be as much of a mainstream success story as “Paranormal Activity”, “Skinamarink” does achieve the disorienting visuals mixed with unnerving atmosphere, which makes this experimental film an effective horror watch in the right setting; alone at home in the dark.
Final Thought: The theories behind what is actually going on in this movie will definitely be fun to talk about for those who can make it through. Is this a fever dream? Is this real life? Is this some sort of purgatory? Is there someone or something in this house that is making all of this happen? Is this movie even good? That said, I understand why people dislike this film, as it is an endurance test. On top of that, I understand that “Skinamarink” may be a movie that is more interesting to talk about than it is to actually watch. And so, I cannot fully recommend it to everyone. But I am glad it exists.
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Introductions are dumb. Let’s get right into this. The following are my picks for the ten best movies of 2022.
10. Nanny: A horror take on Ousmane Sembene’s 1966 classic “Black Girl”, only this time told as a modern examination of female African immigrants living in America. “Nanny” tells the story of a Senegalese immigrant named Aisha who takes a nanny position for an upper-class white family in New York. With her own child back in Africa, Aisha’s goal is to raise enough money so he can come live with her. But the longer she works in this abusive and exploitative nanny position, the more nightmares she has, as if something is attempting to get her attention. This could be considered horror in the same way “The Babadook” is, where the horror is less about the monster and more about the situational trauma. The way writer/director Nikyatu Jusu filmed her mostly Black cast visually reminded me of “Moonlight”. And I already stated how “Nanny” takes its story almost directly from arguably the most influential African film of all time. “Nanny” is a movie which takes from the best and executes this reimagining with haunting proficiency.
9. Happening: Adapted from Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical novel, “Happening” takes place in 1960’s France when abortion was illegal. Broken down into weeks, the story is a race against time, following a young woman named Anne as she attempts to obtain an illegal abortion. Along the way she is abandoned by friends, confronted by people who are against a woman’s right to choose and doctors who attempt to sabotage her. Director Audrey Diwan keeps the camera fixed to our protagonist, making this an increasingly uncomfortable and painful watch, witnessing firsthand what someone seeking an illegal abortion must go through. With this past year seeing the overturning of Roe v. Wade, “Happening” may be the most important film on this list.
8. The Woman King: Viola Davis, the action star? A film which caught me completely off-guard, director Dina Prince-Bythewood’s “The Woman King” is a superior theater going experience on almost every level. Taking place in 1823 West Africa, this film tells the story of Nanisca (Viola Davis), the leader of an all-female unit of warriors in the Kingdom of Dahomey. Through theater shaking battle sequences Prince-Bythewood works to showcase her love and admiration for these physically dominant female characters throughout the film. But it’s not just about the action, as there really are only three or four big action sequences. It is the smaller scenes of levity and female-centric bonding centered around trauma, loss and triumph which really carry this two hour plus film. “The Woman King” has so much going for it. From the battle sequences, to the character building, to the historical stakes felt throughout, to Viola Davis becoming an action star before our very eyes, there is something for everyone. For me there was also something deeper. “The Woman King” depicts its relationship between elder Black female characters and younger Black female characters as analogous to the fractured connection between Africa and every single person stolen from her during this horrific time in history. A profound theme handled with such care, that I wish more people would actually experience this movie before making their own statements about “The Woman King”.
7. Elvis: As someone who isn’t an Elvis fan and couldn’t care less if a new generation was introduced to a historical figure some refer to as the “King of Rock & Roll”, but also as someone who knows a lot about the man’s life, this was always going to be a tough sell. I mean, another Elvis movie? (Sigh). With so much Elvis content in the world (documentaries, biopics, etc.) and many “notable” impersonations throughout cinematic history, going into 2022’s “Elvis” all I wanted was something different. And what director Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge!) gave me was different and so much more. No matter how you feel before you watch “Elvis”, it’s undeniable how effective the film is. Austin Butler gives an Oscar worthy lead performance as Elvis. Luhrmann delivers sequences which transport audiences into the crowd of an Elvis performance, giving us the most accurate taste of not only what it looked like, but more importantly what it must have felt like. I never really understood why people of a certain generation were so starstruck by Elvis. Luhrmann makes it make sense using his own unique visual flair, dousing the story with a flamethrower of larger-than-life visual effects, a modern score and the “electricity in the air” feeling which constitutes a Baz Luhrmann cinematic event. This is the best Baz Luhrmann film I’ve ever seen.
6. Prey: A “Predator” prequel that is on par with the 1987 classic. Taking place in the Northern Great Planes in 1719, “Prey” tells the story of a young warrior of the Comanche Nation (played by rising star, Amber Midthunder) as she fights to protect her tribe against a predatory alien who has crash-landed on earth. This is very much a “Predator” movie, meaning it holds a pretty simple cat and mouse setup, with lots of bloody action and an “against all odds” montage leading to a final battle. What separates this installment is a couple of things. Writer Patrick Aison and director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) do an excellent job of placing the focus on the story’s Native characters and how they are portrayed. And using a villain as ruthless and bloodthirsty as the Predator as a foreshadowing event for the Indigenous fight against European colonizers, was a stroke of genius. “Prey” also sees a slew of talented indigenous actors at the helm. Representation continues to be addressed and championed. As the Predator series is an established media property, this installment, with this story and this cast is a big deal. But how it chooses to represent the indigenous community is an even bigger deal.
5. Resurrection: If you know me, you know I have a tendency to gravitate into the morbid underbelly of cinema from time to time. And so, I present, “Resurrection”. A woman (Rebecca Hall) living with her teenage daughter in the city, suddenly begins to see a man from her past showing up in random places, seemingly attempting to intimidate her. Although he doesn’t approach her at first, her terrified reaction says it all. Soon her world begins to spiral, as a secret from her past comes back to haunt her. This is a movie that has been highlighted by many for the intense central performance of Rebecca Hall. And yes, her performance drives this movie forward, as the story veers more and more into the bizarre. It’s the story from writer/director Andrew Semans which takes a common thriller and puts a surreal and disturbing twist on it, pushing said twist to its natural conclusion; a conclusion I wasn’t able to wash off. This movie does what a good horror should do. It gives us a monster while delivering statements on real world issues. In the case of “Resurrection”, the film is actually about trauma stemming from a relationship where grooming is involved.
4. Triangle of Sadness: Socialism and Capitalism are on a cruise together. That’s the setup to the joke writer/director Ruben Östlund’s attempts to tell in his new dark comedy “Triangle of Sadness”. And though it’s not subtle and longer than some may believe necessary, and the antagonists are billionaires and other wealthy criminals, so it was never hard to root against them, every so often a movie comes out that I believe was made just for me. This is that movie. It warmed my anti-capitalist heart. The story is simple. A couple of models (her career is taking off, while his is on the back-end) find themselves on vacation on a yacht with a group of ultra-rich couples. Also on this cruise are the staff who are instructed to never say “no” and told by management there is nothing better in life than tips. With humor, ranging from political class analysis to pronged barf and feces sequences, “Triangle of Sadness” is a relentless and superbly written bashing of the social elites and patriarchal structure, in what amounts to a two hour and twenty-seven-minute love letter to the working class. Here for this!
3. Cow: Documenting the life cycle of dairy cows, director Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, American Honey) gives us a glimpse into a world that the public rarely see. For the most part this documentary consists of handheld close-ups of everything from the birth of a cow, to the eyes of the mother cow as she frantically searches for her young after its removal, to the udders of a cow as milking machines are hooked-up to them for hours at a time. We also see the insemination process. “Cow” not only shows the physical toll this process takes on these cows, but also displays the slow spiritual death that occurs within these animals as they are used and abused for years until they are no longer viable. Animal rights films which usually get a lot of exposure are the larger Netflix documentaries, where we are witness to mass animal genocide. But there is a place for smaller movies like “Cow”. Documentaries which follow a few animals at a time, in this same world, under these same conditions, but allowing audiences to form a bond and empathize with the individual a bit better. What Arnold does here is allow for this empathy to occur by showing us every part of this process.
2. Vortex: This is a movie about the brutalities of getting old. This is a movie about the effect on those watching someone slowly deteriorate. The story is an unflinching look into the decline of an elderly couple, played by Françoise Lebrun and Dario Argento (both of which gave my favorite performances of 2022). The woman suffers from dementia and her husband who has his own health problems, acts as her caregiver. Written and directed by Gaspar Noé (a filmmaker who is more known as a provocateur) “Vortex” is shot entirely in split screen; meaning there are two separate scenes going on at once during almost the entirety of the film. This may all sound more than a little overwhelming, but Noé makes it work so naturally that I couldn’t imagine “Vortex” filmed any other way. As for the content, it’s devastating. There are sequences depicting what dementia looks like physically, but Noé also highlights the in-between moments surrounding “next step” conversations. How do you have a conversation with an elderly parent who is ill, about seeking help or about any end-of-life discussions? Noé gives us these moments and asks you not to turn away. “Vortex” is this filmmaker’s most compassionate and most personal film. It’s also his most hopeless. This isn’t a movie I’d watch again, but a masterpiece I couldn’t leave off of this list.
1. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever: While the Black Panther films are technically located inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they both stand as fully formed and evolved enough to not only live outside of this world, but thrive. With “Wakanda Forever”, writer/director Ryan Coogler uses this stage as equal parts in memoriam to the great actor Chadwick Boseman and as an attack on white supremacy, with a healthy dose of Black female empowerment for good measure. In this sequel, Wakanda stands exposed to threats of intervention from the United States and other world powers and find themselves with an opportunity to join forces with the leader of an underwater empire called Tolokan. Selfishly, “Wakanda Forever” holds a higher place in my heart than its predecessor due to my half-Black, half-Mexican heritage. Coogler really goes mask off, making it clear early and often that this is a story about colonization and the shared historical trauma of two nations worlds apart. He does his best to keep his characters grounded in realism; real people having real conversation regarding the Black and Brown experience, which is usually the antithesis of how Marvel characters are written. This movie is so much better than your favorite MCU movie.