Skinamarink is the type of art that focuses so keenly on a specific mode of being that some will find it an enthrallingly uncanny representation of inarticulable experiences, while others may not consider it applicable to their own lives. The sensation in question: being at home in the dark, uncertain of your situational awareness & authority. The film's premise is that two children discover that the doors, windows, and eventually lights of their home have vanished, with their parents beginning to act strangely and become elusive, as well. They find themselves in a seemingly neverending dusk, passing dead time by watching television & hoping there's nothing going bump in the pitch-black corners of rooms & ends of hallways. It's a situation that speaks most strongly to the paranoid while being a powerful aesthetic experiment in its own right.
Director Kyle Edward Ball has a history of short vignettes & music mixes that recreates the nocturnal childhood memories of many. It's part of the "liminal space" aesthetic that's grown in popularity by the internet allowing people to confirm common experiences & share evocative images & sounds of places abandoned or otherwise passed by. Being his first feature-length film, Skinamarink refines this tinkering to a sustained polish. Dimly lit interiors house footstep-magnifying hardwood floors & palely reflective panel walls that excite (or rather distress) a hopefully overactive imagination. A carefully visually aligned film grain effect emulates the strained human eye attempting to read shapes in the darkness; Brakhage would be proud. Every texture, every square inch of space you may have gazed at for minutes on end from under bedsheets is given wide-eyed attention by Ball's camera, which often lingers for half a minute or more on sharp beams of flickering television light dancing across a plaster ceiling & toppled Legos sinking into a frazzled carpet.
In fact, characters are hardly onscreen at all. The terrified, fretting children are intimated largely through their hushed voices reluctantly breaking the heavy silence. Curiously, the camera is like that of a "first-person" adventure game such as Myst. The perspective serves sometimes as POV, sometimes as an environmental observer, and always as a visual abstractor of surfaces & light. During the film's tensest segments, the viewer may urgently question what information there is to be read both onscreen & offscreen: where are we in relation to what we're seeing & hearing? The form isn't always directly linked to the characters' experiences, but it's always synonymous or adjacent in creative ways.
And despite rarely having a narrative thrust in the moment, things do get tense. Skinamarink establishes a constant of total claustrophobia & stillness, with the kids' television set often being the only (if any) onscreen source of motion. You begin to dread any venture from the norm, any of the threatening variables gradually introduced into the film's grammar. Those old-timey cartoons playing on a loop thankfully don't give in to any particularly cheesy distortions or indications of some past evil, but their comforting distraction from the situation soon bleeds away. Given that the greatest source of nostalgia for most is "not having to worry," what better encapsulates childhood fear than life being changed into uncertain circumstances?
As more bizarre phenomena seep into the home, the children grow confused as to if their parents are still their protectors or if some new force reigns over them. There are varying ways to read the cryptic horrors that ensue -- I personally subscribe to a literal supernatural interpretation -- but in any case the utter unease is deeply felt. It's the same existential anxiety that shakes the helpless to their core during anything from a domestic dispute that threatens to rend households asunder to whatever the latest socially-engineered crisis is. Even those with peaceful childhoods likely felt this dread during the totalitarian lockdowns that annihilated social bonds & forced the powerless into imprisonment in their own homes at the hands of intangible, unaccountable masters. But for all its potential applicability, Skinamarink is ultimately a keenly focused film with a clear vision that doesn't pretend to extend beyond its sensational reach. It's a better film for letting our imaginations run wild.