Welcome to Cinematic Nightmare Candy. Providing your horror sweet tooth its (hopefully) terrifying fix.
We’ve had quite a few new horrors released this year, so it seemed like a great time to do a new nightmare candy! Especially when the two were films that incited quite a buzz and had overwhelmingly positive responses. One, in particular, was a viral sensation. Unfortunately, for this horror fan, both felt lukewarm to me. Each one was a mere shade of the potential that could have been.
Skinamarink (Kyle Edward Ball)
One of my best friends saw Skinamarink and absolutely loved it (and was quite terrified). This made me incredibly excited to see the film which seemed to have everyone talking. I didn’t feel it had the punch that I was expecting. Instead, I admired the intentions, the artistic and stripped-down visuals, but it just didn’t compute coherently. It became a frustration by its end because I was struck by what the feature could have been, and what the short film version was.
The film is set in 1995, and young Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) seem to be left to their own devices within their home. What’s happening? Why are they alone? The movie moves within its own wavelength of a splice of TV cartoons, legos, and the persistent question of where are the parents? And what possible boogeyman could potentially be lurking in this grainy, home-camera-looking capture of a childhood nightmare? When we do see or hear the parents they feel more like a specter than the individuals these children know.
There’s a brilliance that’s not quite surface level, and it becomes tawdry. Some of the cinematography works to make us feel secluded and unsure, while others feel a bit pretentious. It clocks in at an hour and forty minutes but stretches itself thin. With the extended shots, often of corners or out-of-reach framing, the minutes felt lingering. If the viewer takes these in the way I’m assuming director Kyle Edward Ball and cinematographer Jamie McRae intended, the claustrophobia may be staggering. If it doesn’t, that suffocation surfaces in a less ideal way.
Your imagination can play its devious tricks. At its strange little heart that’s where Skinamarink strikes. The eerie tone when it’s persistent is quite effective, especially the shadowy imagery that have you searching the darkness for the insidious. A few scenes had the hair on my neck stand up, but the rush didn’t sustain. The childhood fear encompassed can be visceral, but, it can also feel a level of tedium.
Something I admire is the lack of certainty and the reliance on interpretation, especially from the perspective of the innocent child. I have my own ideas of what was occurring and when I saw the short it confirmed it. The shorter medium seemed to be more conducive to what it was aiming for, and I would definitely recommend hunting that down.
While inventive and a great opportunity for experimental low-budget to be spotlighted, Skinamarink left me in the dark, yearning for much more. The prominent static became just that, a disconnect.
M3gan (Gerard Johnstone)
M3gan, the newest doll gone wild horror venture has all the characteristics we have seen before, but it’s packaged in a shiny, dancing new product.
This is both a positive and a detriment because -while still enjoyable- I felt the homages were paid in a way that felt repetitive and the facelift uninspired. I realize I am probably in a small group of critics who felt letdown, but in many ways, the trailer gave me the same thing the film did.
After Cady (Violet McGraw) loses both her parents she begins living with her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) a talented roboticist. Gemma is working on a new prototype, M3gan, a doll that looks and interacts like a real girl. She seems like the perfect companion for Cady as she is overwhelmed by her trauma. So, Gemma brings her work home, hoping it’ll help advance the technology to be released while simultaneously providing Gemma a friend. M3gan seems helpful at first, but she is also incredibly protective of Cady, turning to violence as a way of exhibiting her coded nature. Sound familiar? Because it is. M3gan falls under the weight of its own ambition.
Of course, when you fast-track an AI project such as this the likelihood of disaster is maximized. M3gan is one of those movies where you know what’s going to happen, that’s undisputed, but does its predictability mar the overall intent or is it something you can wave off? The script fails to elevate the characters to feel organic, to the degree that I thought M3gan was better written.
The script is written by Akela Cooper, who also did Malignant, a film I feel to be superior. I wish M3gan honed in on some of the weird and shocking nature that the former incorporated so well.
I feel like the cast is perfectly adequate in their roles but there is an emotional factor that feels lackluster. The special effects are terrific, which makes any of the visual aspects with M3gan A+ but the narrative despondency incurs a level of dissatisfaction. This synthesized version of a substitute for connection doesn’t feel natural. Yes, this is an exaggerated tale as is, so one may not expect that, but I never fully believed in the benefit of the creation versus the risks. I also found the direction to be near-sided, caught in its own way, not seeing the full picture.
M3gan is definitely fun, but it succumbs to tropes and familiarity in a way that makes it feel reductive.
Both of these films hovered on the borderline of success for me. I respect and acknowledge each of their intents, but I also wonder what could have been.