Indie Releases: Knives and Skin (2019) - Reviewed

Profound loss, particularly death, effects every human being in a different way.  The theme has been explored in cinema countless times, with each offering filtering the concepts of mortality and reconciliation through different lenses.  Indie ironclad Jennifer Reeder's latest film, Knives and Skin approaches it from a fresh, wonderfully bizarre angle: An unusual coming of age story for the modern world.  Featuring a hilariously deadpan script, multiple musical numbers, and some of the year's best cinematography, this is a film that will simultaneously endear and repulse.  

Teenager Carolyn goes missing in an unnamed Midwestern town.  What follows is a strange odyssey of family, love, lust, betrayal, and forgiveness.  It would be easy to compare the film to Lynch's epic, Twin Peaks.  In the wake of his brilliant The Return it becomes simplistic to throw anything with surreal imagery into the "Lynchian" pool, however, upon reflection, it is clear that Reeder's vision is her own.  While there are nods to female directors strewn throughout, there is also an interesting parallel to Paris Belongs to Us.  In the wake of the unthinkable the ensemble of characters, both adult and child are pondering not only their own lives, but their futures as well with absolutely no sense of direction, only urgency.  At the end of another’s life it is natural to become preoccupied by one's own future and yet, within Reeder's Midwestern limbo, no one knows where they're going until Carolyn's tragedy forces them to confront themselves.  Ultimately this is a celebration, not only of life, but of diversity, sexual freedom, and female empowerment; put to music by haunting vocal performances that bookend each act of the film.  

Marika Engelhardt's performance as Carolyn's bereft mother is one of the year's best, an unpredictable eye of the semiotic storm that rages within the heart of the narrative.  Her delivery is perfect and her character's ultimate evolution as a parent is both soul crushing and life affirming.  While there are stereotypes at play for certain characters, other characters simply...exist, rather than being presented in a subversive manner and this is one of the film's many potent attributes.  Interracial marriage and same sex couples aren't shown as anything special or unusual, they simply are and this is a remarkable choice.  While some of the themes may come off as "woke" or too heavy handed, it is an important concept to remember that this is a high school story.  There's a reason for the characters and setting and part of that is the naivety of youth that blossoms into experienced adulthood and Reeder's way of focusing on this is masterful.  

Christopher Rejano's neon bathed cinematography is the final piece.  Coupled with Nick Zinner's elusive score, one is instantly reminded of It Follows and other menacing stories about the loss of innocence.  Rejano's compositions transcend these rote comparisons, allowing each of the principals to breath within the candy colored illusions that fill each frame.  The final result is a weird film unlike any other.  While its influences are clear, this is a complete, unique vision from a clearly talented master of her craft on display.  

Coming this Friday to Digital On Demand, Knives and Skin is one of the most awkward and uncomfortable viewing experiences of the year.  There's strange sexual encounters, deviant predators, and toxic machismo everywhere in Reeder's potboiling high school of lost souls.  Beneath the darkness however, is a beautiful story about coming to terms with loss and living life on one's own terms.  The marriage of these opposites forms a terrifying, loving, and absolutely gorgeous modern American parable that is essential viewing.  

--Kyle Jonathan