Wow, so what can I say about acclaimed short film director Jennifer Reeder’s feature debut Knives and Skin that might actually do it the least bit of justice? I’m really not sure if I can, but I’ll try. First of all, it is an obvious parody of every teen movie that most of us loved as teenagers. It is even shot in the suburbs of Chicago, which I’m not sure is a purposeful homage to John Hughes or not. Additionally, the ultra-stylized production design and even the way the lines are delivered is extremely reminiscent of a lot of David Lynch, but particularly Twin Peaks due to Knives and Skin’s plot.
Band geek Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) goes missing one night after (unbeknownst to mostly everyone)going on a particularly bad date with uber jock Andy Kitzmiller (Ty Olwin). Her mother, Lisa (Marika Engelhardt) the chorus teacher at the high school, knows almost immediately that something isn’t right and it doesn’t take her very long before she goes a bit off her rocker and starts wearing her daughter’s evening gowns over her regular clothes as outfits.
No one knows where Carolyn is, but everyone is feigning concern now that she is missing, including people who would’ve said they hated her days earlier. Like Twin Peaks and other teen TV shows like Riverdale and Beverly Hills 90210 (Luke Perry R.I.P.), the central plot is kept afloat by a series of extremely dramatic and increasingly more bizarre events involving the other residents of the town.
“…it doesn’t take her very long before she goes a bit off her rocker and starts wearing her daughter’s evening gowns over her regular clothes as outfits.”
There are the aforementioned Fitzmillers, which have Andy as the prototypical poster child for toxic masculinity. Then there’s the hypersexualized grandmother, Gramma Miriam (Marilyn Dodds Frank), the unemployed father who moonlights as a party clown, Dan (Tim Hopper), the completely insane mother who sleeps with tinfoil pillows, Lynn (Audrey Francis) and the drug dealing, used underwear hustling daughter, Joanna (Grace Smith).
Then there are the Darlingtons which include the town sheriff Doug (James Vincent Meredith), who may be the only normal person in this entire cinematic universe, school mascot Jesse (Robert T. Cunningham), a closeted lesbian cheerleader daughter who also dates Andy named Laurel (Kayla Carter) and a pregnant mom who may or may not be having an affair with the town clown named Renee (Kate Arrington). And there are more students and teachers who have their own things going on as well.
So many events occur in this film that it’s a fool’s errand to try to list them all, but some of my favorite weird moments include: a very close up shot of a meatloaf being made and then subsequently being thrown at a van, a talking tiger shirt, glowing scars, the chorus singing acapella versions of 80’s hits such as “Blue Monday” and “Our Lips Are Sealed” among others, and so many more.
“It’s one of the more artful pastiches of high school noir, and god knows it’s a saturated market.”
I’m not sure if you can tell, but I loved this movie. It was so damn weird that I want to watch it again right now just to capture more of the intricacies within the plot and production design. It’s one of the more artful pastiches of high school noir, and god knows it’s a saturated market, particularly on the tv side of things. Jennifer Reeder comes from an art background, so everything is much more polished and beautiful than your average high school film. It’s also whip-smart and incredibly sarcastic as if Donnie Darko and Heathers had a baby in the Black Lodge.
Please check out this film, all the actors are great, and the original music is by Nick Zinner, also known as the guitarist from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Christopher Rejano’s cinematography captures the banality of Midwestern suburbia and the magic within the townspeople’s collective insanity in equal measure. The production design by Adri Siriwatt is so damn impressive that I’ve already mentioned it god knows how many times before this. It’s rare these days to come across a movie so weird –that is also well done that doesn’t come across as the most pretentious trash on earth. If anything the film is hyper self-aware, which is something I definitely appreciate.
Knives and Skin (2019). Written and Directed by Jennifer Reeder. Starring Marika Engelhardt, Raven Whitley, Ty Olwin, Ireon Roach, Haley Bolithon, Aurora Real De Asua, Grace Smith, Marilyn Dodds Frank, TIm Hopper, Audrey Francis, James Vincent Meredith, Kate Arrington, Kayla Carter, Robert T. Cunningham, Alex Moss, Emma Ladji, Jalen Gilbert, Genevieve VelJohnson.
10 out of 10 stars.