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Knives and Skin

Don’t miss one of the most talked about films of the year: Jennifer Reeder’s “KNIVES AND SKIN”, a dreamy neon noir about death, identity, and hope.

Writer/director Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin is one of the most talked about films of 2019 among fans of horror and independent cinema. Since its American premiere at Tribeca Film Festival back in the spring, critics have been praising this unique coming of age thriller as one of the best films of the year. But since it just hit VOD this month — accompanied by a limited theatrical release — it’s a film that many fans have only very recently had the chance to experience.

Have you seen Carolyn Harper?

The question hangs over the teen’s small suburban community the way that Who killed Laura Palmer? loomed over the town of Twin Peaks. But where David Lynch’s iconic series revealed Laura’s well-kept secrets in order to find her murderer, Knives and Skin isn’t about solving the mystery of Carolyn’s disappearance. In fact, we’re shown exactly what happened to her in the very beginning. The film that follows her unfortunate end concerns itself with how her disappearance reverberates throughout the town she called home. Carolyn acts as a cipher; her disappearance and death informs how those who knew her cope with their own grief, growing pains, and identity crises.

The most compelling — and uncomfortable — example of grief comes from Carolyn’s distraught mother, Lisa (Marika Engelhardt).

The film’s opening scene shows Lisa approaching her daughter’s locked bedroom brandishing a knife; upon discovering that Carolyn isn’t inside, Lisa then puts on one of her daughter’s dresses. From the beginning, it’s clear their relationship is fucked up.

Just how fucked up doesn’t exactly become any clearer, but as Lisa becomes more unhinged, we’re given glimpses of a thoroughly disturbing, obsessive relationship.

As the sheriff searches Carloyn’s bedroom, Lisa caresses her daughter’s things with a reverence that borders on erotic. She later masturbates in the same room, surrounded by reminders of her daughter’s childhood. She sniffs out her scent like a bloodhound, and when it leads her to the local football star (the last person to see Carolyn alive), Lisa makes out with him after learning her daughter did the same.

Lisa’s relationship with Carolyn may have been problematic, but Engelhardt gives the film’s most electrifying performance, making no attempt to sugarcoat the ugliness of grief.

She is one among an ensemble of struggling parents. Knives and Skin paints an unflinching portrait of domestic turmoil, dysfunctional families, and broken marriages. The adults in these families are incapable of shouldering the weight of their lives and choices, and (perhaps unwittingly) force their teenage children to carry it instead.

The group of teenagers at the center of the film each have their own individual motives but are bound together by their search for identity and a life outside the confines of their small town.

With a focus on female characters, the narrative explores the specific sets of pressures and expectations put on young girls.

One once asks another, “if you’re not a cunty slut or a bitchy tease then what are you?” The girls struggle to carve out space for themselves outside these labels, figuring out who they are and their role in the world around them.

That world is a nostalgic neon dream, full of mid-20th century aesthetics and a capella 80s musical numbers. Though occasionally veering a little too far out there (the talking tiger t-shirt giving a pep talk was a bit much), Reeder creates an ethereal atmosphere that overall beautifully compliments her unique voice.

Knives and Skin won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

After my first watch, I had to sit on the film for a little while; I’m not sure I really got it.

A second viewing offered more cohesion and appreciation for the nuance Reeder brings to the story. I appreciate that the story is built around Carolyn Harper, even though it isn’t her story. It’s her mother’s story, her friends’ and classmates’ story, the town’s story. It’s a story about how each of them is affected by Carolyn’s death but how their lives go on without her.

It’s a story about death…but it’s also a story about hope.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4

If you want to see this film for yourself, Knives and Skin streaming now on iTunes and Amazon Prime.

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