KNIVES AND SKIN
(director/writer: Jennifer Reeder; cinematographer: Christopher Rejano; editor: Mike Olenick; music: Nick Zinner; cast: Grace Etzkorn (Candice), Grace Smith (Joanna), Ireon Roach (Charlotte Kurtich), Kayla Carter (Laurel Darlington), Raven Whitley (Carolyn Harper), Ty Olwin (Andy Kitzmiller), Marika Engelhardt (Lisa Harper), Tim Hopper (Dan Kitzmiller), Audrey Francis (Lynn Kitzmiller), Kate Arrington (Renee Darlington), James Vincent Meredith(Doug Darlington); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Brian Hieggelke, Jan Hieggelke; Full Spectrum Features/Newcity; 2019)
“It’s one of this year’s better films for those who can deal with idiosyncratic films that are meant to be taken seriously and offer much to reflect on.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The stylish psychedelic psycho-thriller parody and part musical by veteran director/writer Jennifer Reeder (“Signature Move”/”Blood Below The Skin”) is a good original one (even if uneven in presentation) and a difficult movie to label as for genre identity, even if its subtle female empowerment messages remind one of those by other artistic directors such as Chantal Akerman. In its ethereal nature this mood piece compares favorably with the restless quirky attitude of films like David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Here there’s a coming-of-age tale with multi-racial eccentric characters and a bizarre narrative with horror tropes and 80s music that promotes the idea that a grieving America is still wrestling with itself to find its identity after years of betrayal by the patriarchal society and those in power.
When the wayward teenager Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) is reported missing in Big Rivers, it causes concern for her loving hysterical knife-wielding mom (Marika Engelhardt) and her entire sleepy suburban rural Illinois town who send out search parties. Joanna (Grace Smith) is the sister of the boy Carolyn was last seen with before she vanished, the piggish high-school jock Andy (Ty Olwin). Grace Smith has a rich character part in advancing the central plot.
As the search for Carolyn goes on for a few days, we follow the activities of her fellow high school students. Whereby in the many odd subplots we observe such incidents as two girls beginning a lesbian relationship, a student selling her mother’s prescription meds to her teacher and an ashamed working clown (Tim Hopper), the dad of Joanna and Andy, who goes to extremes to hide his unemployment from his family.
There are also frequent advances into musical territory, which are unrelated to the central story. They include renditions of New Order’s “Blue Monday”, Naked Eyes’ “Promises Promises” and Cindy Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
After a few days the body of the 15-year-old is found in the river. We have learned that when her boyfriend’s sexual demands were spurned, he pushed Carolyn into the water and drove home alone.
The heart of the film is filled with weird dialog and with off-beat characters behaving in inexplicable ways. The youth are pictured as hoping to escape their boring town but not knowing where to go to. There’s a sense of hopelessness over the uncertain political and economic climate they have inherited, and that finding success in the American Dream seems less possible now for this generation than ever before.
The female director gives it a credible personal female story-line, which is both curious and interesting. The observations are sharp, the acting is superb and the artistic values are high.Christopher Rejano’s cinematography in largely in neon colors and is trendy but fine.
It’s one of this year’s better films for those who can deal with idiosyncratic films that are meant to be taken seriously and offer much to reflect on.
REVIEWED ON 8/23/2019 GRADE: B+