KNIVES AND SKIN
Starring: Marika Engelhardt, Raven Whitley, Ireon Roach, Haley Bolithon, Grace Smith
Directed by: Jennifer Reeder
Written by: Jennifer Reeder
“You will not die from this, it will almost kill you, but you’ll survive. You’re gonna be okay. Okay?”
Some of my all-time favorite stories are mysteries surrounding someone who has disappeared.
Additionally, if those stories center around a small town where someone goes missing, you know I want to be the first one watching or reading it. A lot of stories can be told in that small town. It can show what the town is made of and who the people are. It can show the ins and outs of an investigation and shows grief in a way that you never imagined. It’s honestly the basis of things I hope to write one day, but Knives and Skin takes all of this to a whole new level.
Knives and Skin centers around a missing girl named Carolyn who disappears after a rough encounter with a football player. Inside the investigation of Carolyn’s disappearance, we’re introduced to other key players in this town that have their own secret lives. Knives and Skin provides a town shrouded in mystery and secrets like Twin Peaks but has its own particular type of coming-of-age tale for each character involved.
I remember wanting to see this film at Tribeca, but with the schedule so tight, it was impossible to get to it. I’m SO pleased I got the chance to see it for Fantasia, because this film is everything I could want (and you might want). Jennifer Reeder serves us adolescent longing, musical harmony, beautiful shots, and Giallo lighting with a neon-noir story that’s strongly feminist. However, that’s not its overarching message. She trickles these little things to get characters to their next level to elevate their story.
Knives and Skin serves so many cool beats of what noir is. Reeder’s use of the inciting incident — being this girls death that completely disrupts a town — is epic. Reeder does what I think every filmmaker who wants to do noir does perfectly: focus on characters inside a particular situation. Reeder takes queues from noir movies for her storytelling but centers her direction on Giallo. You might think that shouldn’t work, but it’s pulled off with ease in Knives and Skin.
Reeder not only does a great job in directing but her writing and development of the characters is perfection. She individualizes each character and their story, giving each the screentime they deserve. You never felt lost when you wondered what a character was up to. Every single one of Reeder’s characters are unique, bold, unapologetic, messy, and struggling. That’s so realistic even in an unbelievably cool story like this. Both the teenagers and the parents are laced with secrets. Everyone in this town has them on display in the worst way. Knives and Skin is told in a way that you could at least identify with one of them.
One thing I really want to praise this film for is for having a KILLER soundtrack. The epic soundtrack is sung by the stars of the film! They share harmonies and sing classics like Promises, Promises by Naked Eyes and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper in soft choir voices. It never feels out of place in the film, even when Carolyn has a song. It feels strange and otherworldly, but that’s what the whole film feels like all the same.
Knives and Skin engulfs you in a world of tragedy and grief. It shows you that grief as you go through the five stages with the characters. They bargain, deny, grieve, depress, and accept along with their problems and resolve them in the way that only they can. It’s a rare picture that gives you the heart of characters and uniquely showcases them. Even the world build with costumes (another very cool piece of this film) makes it so stunningly dreamy and transcends into something you’ve never seen before.