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Knives and Skin - Movie Review

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Knives and Skin (2019)

“I bled all over her Beauty and the Beast comforter.”

Knives and Skin opens with strong shadows blocking out a face.  The look on this mother is one of many concerns. She’s been crying.  This expressive shot used to be used a lot in the black and white world of film noir; very dramatic and striking and here it does the job of setting viewers up for a dramatic scene as we continue down the hall toward a room.  

"This film will haunt you and for good reason.  It is quite different and VERY strong"


With strong colors in the background, a nervous mother has a large butcher knife behind her back.  She is cautiously approaching the door of her teenage daughter’s room. But Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) is not in the room.  The mother, of course, doesn’t know this and, as she gets closer to the door, she grips the handle of the knife tighter and asks, through the door, if her daughter is listening to her records or just still not talking to her.  It is a tense scene, made much more Twin Peaks-like thanks to the synths of composer Nick Zimmer.

“Open the door!,” she demands and then, with the blade of the knife, she picks the lock and jimmies the door open.  Upon entering, the score changes into a more dream-like state and she puts the knife down, slipping into a sequined dress in her daughter’s closet.  Twisted, right?!  

Yes, Knives and Skin opens with a horror film setting.  It’s rather unexpected, but the film pulls it off, prepping us for a mysterious narrative that stands proudly alongside the cinematic worlds of Roger Waters and David Lynch, complete with their unmistakable knack for creating adult characters who are severely lacking in empathy.  In this strange world, artifacts and scratches glow, adults are woefully clueless, and the teenagers - all dressed in sequins and lace - find solace in the synthetic kitsch of their 1980s soundtrack.

Something is amiss here.  And, as Knives and Skin begins, you will find yourself quickly tangled up in the madness and melodies of a midwestern town that feels both authentic and preposterous all in the same breath.  This film will leave you shaken and wanting more as the mysterious disappearance of a teenage girl rattles the emotions held in secret inside Big River.

Elsewhere, it is in the dead of a chilly night when Andy (Ty Olwin) realizes that he isn’t going to get laid.  His reaction is one of impatience and frustration as Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) stands before him in a marching band uniform.  After telling him that she wanted to do it with him, she’s changed her mind. A struggle ensues and, as the dumb jock marches back toward his car, she’s left behind on the gravel . . . bleeding and all she can think about is the pair of glasses she’s left in his car.  She hollers for help, but the scream dies in the stillness of the air.  

No one hears her voice or recognizes confusion.  Audiences of Jennifer Reeder’s third film, Knives and Skin, will hear her, though, and they will recognize - as we are spellbindingly thrust into a world of glowing objects, vibrating pink, green, and blue colors, and strange characters - the existential frustration of the modern teenage girl.  It is palpable, strange, and downright unsettling. But that’s the beauty and the charm of Knives and Skin.  

From spelling her name wrong on bedazzled pink fliers to demanding weed for a telephone call to the police to report the missing girl, the adults in this town are disconnected from reality and only assist in confusing minds and viewers as their affairs are paraded around - some actually in clown costumes - for all of us to eyeball and judge.  I guess that’s what happens when you sleep on tinfoil covered pillows.  Knives and Skin (2019)

Sharp performances from Grace Smith, Ireon Roach, Kayla Carter, Marika Engelhardt, Tim Hopper, Audrey Francis, Kate Arrington, James Vincent Meredith, and Robert T. Cunningham gives this very expressive film - as the girls defend their meanness in this colorful but cruel world - characters that resonate long after the credits roll.  This film will haunt you and for good reason.  It is quite different and VERY strong.  Here, mood becomes metaphor as the search for a missing girl opens a whole lot of scars and emotions. 

When it comes to atmosphere and empowerment, Knives and Skin definitely makes a statement. The film had its World Premiere at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival and screened at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival.  It opens Friday, December 6 at the Screenland Crossroads in Kansas City thanks to IFC Midnight.

5/5 stars

Knives and Skin (2019)

Blu-ray

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Knives and Skin

MPAA Rating: Unrated.
Runtime:
111 mins
Director
: Jennifer Reeder
Writer:
Jennifer Reeder
Cast:
Kate Arrington, Tim Hopper, Marika Engelhardt
Genre
: Drama
Tagline:
Carolyn is Missing. Everyone Else is Lost.
Memorable Movie Quote: "If you need some extra money, you can sell my extra meds to your friends in school."
Distributor:
IFC Midnight
Official Site:
Release Date:
May 10, 2019
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
December 6, 2019.
Synopsis: A mystical teen noir that follows a young girl's disappearance in the rural Midwest and its effect on teens and parents.

Knives and Skin

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