Knives and Skin Movie Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Released by IFC Midnight
Written and directed by Jennifer Reeder
2019, 111 minutes, Not Rated
Released on December 6, 2019
Kate Arrington as Renee Darlington
Tim Hopper as Dan Kitzmiller
Marika Engelhardt as Lisa Harper
Tony Fitzpatrick as Principal Markum
James Vincent Meredith as Doug Darlington
Carolyn Harper was a nobody before she went missing. Not a partier or troublemaker, and the daughter of the high school chorus teacher, when she doesn’t come home after the marching band performance at a football game, her mother knows immediately that something is wrong. As her absence grows more palpable, her fellow classmates grow restless with their strained lives. Less willing to put up with parental depression, affairs, unemployment, and predatory teachers, Carolyn’s disappearance ignites their desires to make serious changes before it’s too late.
I’m at a loss at what to talk about when reviewing Knives and Skin because it is so jammed packed with delicate details and exquisite performances, I don’t think the experience of watching Jennifer Reeder’s second full-length film can be captured in just a few paragraphs. So I’m going to ramble on for a bit about the things that mesmerized; in the end, the point is: See this movie.
The opening is a somewhat typical ‘80s fallout between a horny high school boy and a nervous high school girl, but immediately Reeder introduces a supernatural injury to the boy that goes from a mild cut to a flowing gash over the 111 minute run as a representation of his internal guilt. Back at Carolyn’s (Raven Whitley) home, her mother Lisa (Marika Engelhardt) wanders her daughter’s room, saturated in a candy pink and lively, verdant green, a close-up of her running her hands over of a sequined dress while lights bounce at the camera and recede back into darkness. Holy hell, symbolism.
The world created in Knives and Skin is chaotic and disjointed while still being realistic. Fellow classmates Joanna (Grace Smith), Laurel (Kayla Carter), and Charlotte (Ireon Roach) find their own home crises are coming to a head from the disappearance of a girl they haven’t spoken to since seventh grade. It’s as though all this little Midwestern town needed was one good push to blow open the doors of disaster everywhere. Every disaster is so ordinary that they become extraordinary in Reeder’s hands.
That’s not to say she didn’t find ways to distinguish these characters from any other teen movie. The burgeoning relationship between two girls is demonstrated in a bizarre way that’s uncomfortable but suddenly makes sense at the close (kind of). The adults having an affair are both in stages of crises that are absurd and relatable.
The performances are all exceptional, but Marika Engelhardt has to be commended for her devastating portrayal of a parent living their worst nightmare in front of everyone. Sitting at the kitchen table, while Carolyn’s useless birthday cake disintegrates into a puddled mess, she stares at the empty space in front of her, finally breaking under the fear that someday she may forget exactly how her daughter looked. The anguish of her regret is unrelenting and I commend Engelhardt for the many scenes she had to go to that place as an actor and bring that up for an audience.
Reeder’s take on the classic high school mystery is nothing short of incredible. Go see Knives and Skin.
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