Knives and Skin
In a rural American town, the sudden disappearance of schoolgirl Carolyn Harper drives the small population of eccentrics into a surreal nightmare of fear, suspicion and revelation.
Or at least this is what the film’s website tells us. Yet Carolyn’s absence acts merely as a loose framework rather than a solid narrative thrust. Less compelling mystery and more slice of life for moody absurdists, Knives and Skin is essentially a series of suburban-themed, intertwined vignettes in which disturbingly similar behavioural patterns are drawn between teenagers and their parents.
For better or worse, director Jennifer Reeder has no shortage of themes or striking visuals at her disposal. The feature is drenched with a dark quirkiness, hinting at the macabre and even the supernatural. Superficially, the filmmaker maintains an intriguing “high reality” with neon lights, synth-wave and some dreamy crossfades. There are ideas and motifs that will no doubt sound compelling to fans of David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn, but such audiences will surely lament the comparative lack of feeling and momentum in the movie.
This is not to say Reeder lacks care and detail in her story. Indeed, there is a great degree of subtext buried here, but the loose and ultimately dull narrative rarely tempts us into reading it. The film’s abstract nature sits very poorly with its dramatic desires, as such needlessly stoic and bizarre characters undercut every attempt at emotional resonance.
Regrettably, recurrent themes of isolation, guilt, insecurity, corruption and grief go to waste every time. The feature has a multitude of messages but lacks the sufficient screenplay foundations (character, motivation, emotion etc.) to neatly deliver them.
There is promise in the director’s understanding of youth. Teenage obliviousness is displayed in refreshingly creative ways compared to what one would see elsewhere (phones are seldom seen and social media is never mentioned), and the script intrigues in its send-up of the high school hierarchy. Like a John Hughes film on downers, an ordinary high school is rendered as a joyless, inescapable void, before a handful of students challenge the corrupt authority and refuse to adhere to rigid social labels.
Such snide commentary is unfortunately sparse as the movie chiefly goes for bland idiosyncrasy rather than frank, intelligent analysis. Although cinematography, music and Reeder’s conviction prevent a tedious watch, the detriments are plentiful nonetheless.
Knives and Skin roams the borders of bold experimental cinema and crushing suburban drama, but interrupted by an amalgamation of other elements, fails to balance them adequately enough to manage a truly vivid experience.
Knives and Skin does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.