This is the core fear “Skinamarink” successfully exploits: being a growing, ignorant child living through a profound change without having any of the language, tools, or experience to even express what’s happening, or what’s wrong with you. In a later part of the film, Kevin calls 911 to tell them that he “hurt himself,” but when the operator asks him follow-up questions, he’s unable to respond or elaborate. It’s viscerally upsetting to listen to, because at this point, the film has already reduced you to your inner child.
Ball’s film sacrifices traditional plot structure to portray a collection of these anxieties in vignettes. How long do we need to wait until our parents are home? What if Mom and Dad never come back? What do we do then? What if I go back upstairs to get my toys, and there’s something there waiting for me?
When you’re alone in the dark and you need to calm these adolescent thoughts down, all you can really do is drown them out with the noisy glow of the television. If you’re lucky, it won’t end up staring right back at you.