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.

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 and written/directed by Midwest-based artist Jennifer Reeder, 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 particular brilliance by speaking of and back to this film the way it spoke to me.

The vignette-like flow 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 their personal unwavering anxiety in their Midwest town as this unfortunate circumstance is shrouded in mystery to the town's residents.

As the ensemble ruminates, they process how this will change their own lives through singing 80s pop bops turned lullabies, DIY attire homages to women in history, fresh expressions of exploratory romance, and the adult grapplings 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 in each frame promises you'll take home something seemingly vague, yet memorable that'll haunt your still moments. Specifically, Marika Engelhardt as Carolyn's fragile mother Lisa is the film's somber pulse balanced with "goth-punk" Charlotte (Ireon Roach) as its most spirited.

Visual echoes of the cloudy thrillers of before burn in the way Lisa moves through Carolyn's room, wears her clothing, conducts a choir, hunts for anything that'll bring Carolyn back and provide answers. 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 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. Knives and Skin faces the dark, discomforting, unseemly. Engelhardt nails every gut-wrenching posture, every cadence that honestly left me needing a nap and solitude afterwards.

Charlotte is self-assured and unknowing. With an enviable confidence of reliable, No wave flare and performative prowess, beneath lies a similar bevy of insecurities that link to a common desire to make intimate connections a personal reality. A long, palpable glance at the football player Jason (Jalen Gilbert), who's a hint less shy about his interest reveals an assumed outsider with yearnings like the rest of us. A perfect pitch tale of letting fear unravel to "g'on honey, take a chance," Charlotte's multipicitous emotional experience both mocks and puts social strata on the shelf as she and Jason come together in a way that is absolutely unmatched in any film like Knives and Skin before it. Double this with how cheerleader Laurel (Kayla Carter) and the sporty Colleen (Emma Ladji) entangle to weave a budding love spree and the film becomes straight up revolutionary.

Additionally, Knives and Skin is a story about the toxic clutter power and gender inequity consistently builds. The women young and old confront the weight certain men and boys have imposed on their livelihoods. Those last moments we spend with Carolyn, and further with caring hustler Joanna (Grace Smith). She's feels even more alone the moment a smarmy substitute English teacher (Alex Moss) brushes the side of her shoulder with his hip in class. No one else notices. Disturbed, perplexed, and intrigued by his interest, Joanna struggles with his imposition and ultimately, embraces her calculated savvy. Her need to 'get out' (Joanna's strategies to make enough money on her own to maybe go to an all-women college) doubles in meaning as she untethers herself from the emotional approval of her elders. Her mother should want to love her. Her teacher should respect boundaries. In a perfect world, these are reasonable expectations. In the reality of Knives and Skin and our own, these things are unfair and incredibly complicated. Instances like these that bring this ensemble together are the silent screams of women and girls who carry these grey difficulties, determined to figure out who they are and what they want. Knives and Skin piles on the pressure by offering more complex ways adults and young women navigate the patriarchal landmines and fine tune their personal desires.

What Reeder brings to Knives and Skin is one of the most extraordinary marriage of influence (Rivers EdgeSafeBlue VelvetJe Tu Il Elle, Morvern Callar) and authenticity. This is her stage where quirks and plurality are laid visceral and bare. Knives and Skin plays a critical role in instinctual cinema, where there's a visual story guided by the keep-it-realness of each character. It's life. As simple as that sounds. It slaps because of how it exposes who we proudly are and who we find ourselves to be in our most challenging moments, and those reactions called emotions bristling in between. It's why I'll be spending a lifetime with Knives and Skin. It is a beautiful revelation that we are all whole and never alone. As coming-of-age, the film confesses, is a lifelong process.


Knives and Skin is available to stream now.