‘Knives and Skin’ Review: A Neon-Soaked Domestic Drama That Flirts Effectively with Genre

/Film | 12/9/2019 | Marshall Shaffer
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If you filtered a classic character-driven film like The Last Picture Show through a giallo color palette and infused it with impending dread of a horror flick, you’d get something that looked a lot like Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin. The writer-director begins her film with a missing girl, the inciting incident for any number of genres, and lets it spiral away outwards organically. It’s a thriller, a bit of noir, a lot of coming-of-age tale, always small-town domestic drama. To Reeder’s immense credit, her film glides forward with an aura of mystery but never feels like genre mix-and-match.

The specter of teenage band geek Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) looms large over Knives and Skin, but finding her body or anyone involved with her disappearance never takes up much space in the film. Reeder always centers the large web of people affected by her absence. For these Midwestern small-town dwellers, teens and adults alike, the prospect that Carolyn is six feet under unearths complicated emotions that often go unexplored or unexpressed in their daily lives. Grief, regret and longing resurface in their interactions, most of which manifest in the seeming inability of anyone in the town to create or sustain a personal connection.

Aura - Discomfort - Disconnectedness - Settles - Knives

A pervasive aura of discomfort and disconnectedness settles over Knives and Skin from the outset. There’s always something ever so slightly off in any given moment that strikes as incongruous, not so much to make us doubt the world Reeder created but just enough to make us lean in a little more to figure out what’s really at play. The film’s visuals reflect the frenzy created by the heightened stakes of Carolyn vanishing. The performances and dialogue, however, maintain an intriguing flatness and deadpan. They are never boring, to be clear – quite the opposite.

In many ways, providing the...
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