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?”
High school is hell. We can hear that phrase until we’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t make it any less true. High school is especially hell for the teenage girl. I’m not saying that high school isn’t hell anyone else, but, as a teenage girl that was once in high school, high school was hell. With Knives and Skin, it’s a different type of high school hell. One that mashes together the tragedy of a town, but takes three stories unites them with one girl at the center. Knives and Skins turns into a different coming of age experience that still feels all too familiar.
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 live their own secret lives. There’s a girl trying to find a balance between her friends and a crush. Another girl is dealing with a troubled home life where she’ll have to make her own way to survive. The last girl is discovering who she is, one little trinket at a time.
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. Reeder uses her characters to serve so many fresh beats of what noir is. The use of the inciting incident — being Carolyn’s death — completely disrupts a town and twists everyone around it. Reeder perfectly exemplifies why noir is brilliant. She focuses on characters inside a particular situation but weaves them around the person/thing we focus on.
Reeder takes queues from noir movies for her storytelling but centers her direction and visuals around Giallo. You might think that shouldn’t work, but it’s pulled off with ease in Knives and Skin. The Giallo colors make this film feel like a dream. It reminded me of how I felt when watching films like Inferno or Suspira, where I didn’t know what was real or what was a dream. You would also think with those color weaving in and out of certain scenes that it wouldn’t take you out. It was quite the opposite. It kept you engaged the entire time where you felt yourself floating deeper into everyone’s problems and dilemmas.
Reeder does a phenomenal job in the writing and development of the characters as well. She individualizes each character and their story and gives each the screentime they honestly and honorably deserve. There were two things about the characters I gravitated towards. One: Each of them have their individual stories that cross, but never took away from each other or the message. Two, you never felt lost when you wondered what a character was up to. Reeder creates these girls (and others) in a way that will make you relate to some of them. They are unique, bold, unapologetic, messy, and struggling. The teenagers and parents are laced with secrets. Each of them are trying to find themselves in the muck and mud of going through everyday life.
One thing to praise this film for is for the KILLER soundtrack. The stars sing some of the songs in the film. In the film, they’re apart of the chorus (lead by the grieving mother of Carolyn), but they share harmonies and sing classics like Promises, Promises by Naked Eyes (which will get stuck in your head) and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper in soft angelic, choir voices. It never feels out of place in the film, even when Carolyn has a song and laying face down in the dirt. 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 but doesn’t shy away from looking stylish and feeling otherworldly. It shows you that grief as you go through the five stages with the characters. They bargain, deny, grieve, depress, and accept, but they also go through the five stages with their problems and resolve them in the way they can. It’s a rare picture that gives you the heart of characters and uniquely showcases them brilliantly. Knives and Skin is a must-watch film that you’ll only want more of.