Skinamarink is the first movie to ever make me wish I could go 100 minutes without blinking. I kept nervously scanning the frame, looking for visual information and wondering if something was going to emerge from the heavy grain director Kyle Edward Ball relies on. This is a tough film to assess. It steadfastly avoids conventionality and accessibility. That will turn off audiences looking for a standard paranormal chiller. Nevertheless, the atmosphere created is super eerie, which leaves you frazzled.

The story could not be more threadbare. Two young children, Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault), wake up in the middle of the night to discover their father is gone. Something else is in the house with them. It makes the doors and windows disappear, and causes objects to stick on the walls. The kids are left to fend for themselves. As a coping skill, they bring LEGO and other toys into the living room, where they watch TV and wait for someone to come for them.

That's all there is to it. Skinamarink's power comes from the unusual style it possesses. Except for two occasions, you never see either child's face. You just see their feet or hear their voices coming from off-camera. The film is largely comprised of off-kilter shots of the home's ceilings and walls, the carpeting, sometimes the top half of the television set that only plays old cartoons. A few of those shots are upside down. Ball and cinematographer Jamie McRae infuse the film with a massively grainy look. It's so heavy that it often seems like you're trying to watch the film through a snow squall. That has the intended effect of rarely letting us see anything clearly, so that everything is ominous. You also keep thinking you see things in that thick grain - things that may or may not really be there.

Mono sound adds to the effect, stripping away the sense of location most horror films provide via surround sound. For example, you never hear anything coming from the back left channel, suggesting a menace is sneaking up from the rear. All of it comes directly from the front. Dialogue is minimal overall. Kevin and Kaylee talk to the entity that is in the home with them, and it responds in an ominous distorted voice. Again, the flatness of the sound causes it to become uncanny in the most skin-crawling manner.

Skinamarink does not tell you directly what's happening - or let you see it directly, for that matter. You have to look through the haze and listen to the noises/voices on the soundtrack to figure it out, and even then there's a serious level of interpretation required. At one point, a number and a word appear on screen, totally inverting whatever you suspect is occurring. I have a theory about it. Yours could be different. Signposts are there, but it's up to you to determine what they mean. However you read it, those kids are in a bad place.

The mystery is what makes the movie so spooky. Skinamarink envelops you in its style, practically hypnotizing you. Not once does it ease up, so you spend the 100-minute running time anxiously peering into the screen, hoping not to find an unfathomable horror. When one character peers under a bed, the tension is enough to make you hold your breath and feel your heart pounding inside your chest. Although it doesn't satisfy on a traditional storytelling level, this movie feels evil, and that's where its impact comes from. I couldn't look away from Skinamarink. After it was over, I felt unnerved and creeped out. Anyone willing to get on its unique wavelength will have the same experience.

out of four

Skinamarink is unrated, but contains an intense atmosphere and insinuations of danger to children. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.