By Evan Ambrose
When was the last time you saw a new low-budget horror movie in theaters? Specifically, when was the last time you saw a new horror movie in theaters that was made on only a $15,000 budget? Well, if you were old enough to purchase a ticket at the time or smart enough to sneak past your theater’s ticket inspector, the answer might be Paranormal Activity (2007). It’s been over fifteen years since that found-footage social phenomenon hit theaters, and yet, a movie of its cheap caliber has never seen the light of day for a wide release since.
The beginning of 2023 marked a weird start for horror movies. No, not just because of M3GAN, the movie about a TikTok-dancing killer doll, but also because of Kyle Edward Ball’s directorial debut Skinamarink: the first horror movie to hit theaters with as low of a budget as Paranormal Activity since, well, Paranormal Activity. However, its reason for existing within the mainstream stratosphere is a little harder to comprehend. For one, Paranormal Activity was a safe bet because it was being made during the “found footage” era of horror movies which The Blair Witch Project (1999) had launched; it was a guaranteed money-making hit. Skinamarink, on the other hand, is a slow-paced, lo-fi, experimental horror movie that’s essentially composed of strictly still shots of the inside of a house and the people living in it.
The strange part about all this is that the film has already made over a million dollars at the box office, but reception seems to reveal that most people hate it. And yet, theater-goers are still lining up to see it. A movie that’s been advertised as only having still shots of a house? How is that possible? Well, perhaps YouTube could help us understand this: liminal and analog horror videos have gone viral in recent years, some of which depict nostalgic emulations of childhood trauma. Skinamarink embodies this, and to see that niche area of horror filmmaking projected onto the big screen is unheard of. Thus, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see why it’s attracting a decent amount of people; many of us still want to see innovative content that’s never been available at the cinemas before.
It’s amazing that Skinamarink exists, but it’s more amazing that Shudder took the risk to have such an “acquired taste” project showcased across the country’s most popular theater chains instead of on straight-to-VOD. But, the experience of seeing this in an audience of people forced to endure a whole other level of patience than your usual horror flick that does admittedly get unnerving when it counts? It feels like the genesis of a new horror genre for years to come. Just like how people loathed The Blair Witch Project when it first came out only for it to later become a cult classic, Skinamarink might have as much of a fighting chance to eventually gain a similar following of fans so noticeable that it encourages other studios and filmmakers to join in on the bandwagon. Sorry M3GAN. You might not have the upper hand in terms of longevity in comparison to this one.