Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Knives And Skin (2019) Is An Amazing Pastel Noir Therapy Session

Jennifer Reeder's somber, hypnagogic look into the lives of teenagers and adults after a local high schooler goes missing demands a critical and compassionate look within.

Mild spoilers ahead!

I'm going to spend a lifetime with Knives And Skin. Its pulse of color, vibrating hope on a low frequency. Its unapologetic exposure of our inner-selves that is unspeakable, primal, and plain messy. Its audiacity towards the indulgence of surreality. Knives And Skin is a filmic whole. Shot incredibly by Chris Rejano, it is a complete body and mind. Everything we have and will experience if given the room. Due to its tonal soup, I celebrate its odd brilliance by speaking of and back to this film the way it spoke to me.

The lawless storytelling Knives and Skin prefers makes a linear reading unsatisfying. It is in the aftermath of enigmatic high schooler Carolyn Harper's (Raven Whitley) disappearance, that her peers, authority figures, and mother balance genuine, active concern and unwavering anxiety in their Midwest town as this unfortunate circumstance is shrouded in mystery. The audience, however, is rewarded measured insight from the very beginning.

Charlotte (Ireon Roach, center) has the qualities of the every eccentric, weird, and wild Black girl that the screen rarely sees in such a bold, off key manner.

As we're aware of Carolyn's toxic encounter with the alpha jock Andy (Ty Olwin), abandoning her after she rejects their potential hook up mid-encounter, there's still a breath held because there's no confirmation of what came next for Carolyn until the point of wrap up. Some of the restlessness is assauged by 80s pop bops turned lullabies, DIY attire homages to women in history, fresh expressions of exploratory romance, and adult dabbles with mental illness, infidelity, unemployment, and underage philandering, iced with so much introspection, things may not seem immediately clear nor connected. Rest assured, the impeccable nuance brought to life by everyone (I will dive into other characters like Ireon Roach's Charlotte Kurtich in a future essay) in each frame promises you'll take home something seemingly vague yet memorable that'll haunt your still moments. Marika Engelhardt as Carolyn's fragile mom Lisa, aside from Charlotte for me, is the most poignant stand out as the somber pulse that craves healing.

There's only speculation as to the true nature of where Carolyn and Lisa's relationship stood the night she's left on the road. Visual echoes of De Palma's Carrie burn in the way she wears Carolyn's clothing, conducts a choir, and interacts with those who were in contact with Carolyn. Her heart aches, and the only way she knows she's alive is by unpredictably testing and ultimately transgressing social and physical boundaries. The lie of grief is that its seven stages are processed as linear. It's is a daunting pile of tiny puzzle pieces that poke your dread and suffocate notions that any one piece from the numerous in front you, could possibly fit another. The despair will never lift. Nothing Lisa does makes it all make sense. In fact, every adult in this film is proof positive of this. It's dark, discomforting, unseemly, and Engelhardt nails every gut-wrenching posture, every cadence that honestly left me needing a nap and solitude afterwards.

Only later comes the patient, shaky, and solemn exhale that ripens the rotteness of a generations-long problem. The crop of young girls confront the weight certain men and boys have imposed on their livelihoods. Some of those last moments with Carolyn warns of this necessity for those looking to find her sexual and even economic freedom. These experessions, that bring this ensemble together are the silent screams of girls who have that difficulty figuring out who they are and what they want. It's why writer/director Jennifer Reeder (Crystal Lake, Signature Move) has received such great reception from young girls. Women too, here feel the pressure, and offer more complex ways we as adults navigate the patriarchal landmines.

What Reeder brings to Knives And Skin is one of the most extraordinary marriages of influence (Twin PeaksBlue VelvetThe Breakfast ClubAmerican Graffiti) and authenticity. This is her stage where quirks and plurality are laid visceral and bare. Knives and Skin plays its part in instinctual cinema, where there's a story amongst very little rules. It's life. As simple as that sounds, it hits because it is who we are and who we don't want to be, and those reactions called emotions bristling in between. It's why I'll be spending a lifetime with it. Knives And Skin is a revelation that we are all whole. As coming-of-age the film confesses, is a lifelong process.

Knives And Skin has been acquired by IFC Midnight with a December 2019 release.

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