A high school teenager disappears and everyone – her mother, friends, classmates and the local sheriff begin to look for her. Like any other high school drama- thriller, ‘Knives and Skin‘ is a quest for the missing girl. Except that it’s not.

Jennifer Reed’s rendition of a high school thriller is dark, macabre and edging on what can be called psychotic. Carolyn Harper disappears in an a small town in American Midwest and things begin to go haywire. The film begins with Carolyn’s mother Lisa (Marika Engelhardt) searching the house for Carolyn with a knife in her hand. She enters her room but Carolyn isn’t there. Carolyn (Raven Whitley) dressed in her band costume is down at the lake with a high school jock named Andy (Ty Olwin). As soon as Andy comes to know that he is not receiving any sexual favours from Carolyn, he pushes her and leaves in his car. Carolyn, shouting for help and bleeding from her forehead is left there. That is the last time she is seen alive.

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In the search for Carolyn, Lisa begins behaving oddly. She appears to be everywhere looking for her daughter desperately, even on a football field. Lisa is a music teacher in the same high school and she turns up wearing Carolyn’s dresses to the classroom. Her frantic attempts awaken her lust and she is seen kissing Andy in his car. Lisa is not the only adult enslaved by lust as a coping mechanism and this is just the beginning of all the absurdity.

Knives and Skin

The film explores Carolyn’s different classmates and their families. Almost everyone has a secretive side to themselves. There is a father who has lost his job and now works as a part-time party clown. There is another lady who feigns to be pregnant. Another is a mother who stays in bed throughout, loves to do manicures and sleeps on tin-foil covered pillows. She has never changed her dress which has a lion’s face printed on it. Another girl sells her mom’s used lingerie to one of her high school professors.

The list of such odd characters does not end and there is no order or grammar in the way all their stories are intertwined. There is no linearity and the film is almost Lynchish. Though the narrative seems eccentric, it is in its eccentricities that the film touches on the miseries and fears that lie embedded deep inside adults as well as teens. The trying-to-cope adults and the bold and independent teens juggle their way through friendships, relationships, personal goals and perversity. There is too much and too little happening in the film at the same time.

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There is a pair of glowing spectacles, a shifting-vanishing dead body, a forehead scar that doesn’t seem to heal and a lot of other unexplained actions and incidents. The film’s unusual, undefined grammar works well in the capture and expression of the complicated beings the people in the film are shown to be.

Amidst all the chaos there are sequences of soothing acapella of 80’s pop songs by the the girls of the high school choir. The music fits itself in the puzzle of the film and becomes strange in itself when the dead join in on the acapella.

Knives and Skin

A lot of credit that the film receives for grabbing the audience’s attention is because of its production design and cinematography. With hues of pink, purple, green and blue beautifully blended in with the fairy lights and costume, someone frames almost resemble monochromatic paintings.

The performances are good too with Lisa’s (Marika Engelhardt) standing out among all. With good acting, pleasing cinematography and an ensemble of dark, messy and absurd things happening, the ‘Knives and Skin‘ is a gripping, alluring roller coaster ride. It is a curated experience that touches one in odd ways and leaves the mind dumbstruck. Reeder, in all her attempts seems to have woven a thrilling teen noir from bits and pieces of individual stories which wraps itself around your head and leaves you feeling weird.


‘KNIVES AND SKIN’ was screened at 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival
Click here for our complete Fantasia Coverage

Director:  Jennifer Reeder
Cast: Kate Arrington, Marika Engelhardt, Tim Hopper
Country: USA
Runtime: 111 Mins
LINKS: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes

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