Knives and Skin (2019)

Knives and Skin
Director: Jennifer Reeder
Writer: Jennifer Reeder
Cast: Kate Arrington, Tim Hopper, Marika Engelhardt, James Vincent Meredith, Tony Fitzpatrick, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Audrey Francis, Robert T. Cunningham, Alex Moss, Claire VanDerLinden, Ty Olwin, Jalen Gilbert, Grace Smith, Kayla Carter, Raven Whitley, Aurora Real de Asua, Haley Bolithon
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 27.10.2019

Caroline (Raven Whitley) heads out to the lake with Andy (Ty Olwin) to make it out. But things go from romantic to bad pretty quick and Andy leaves Caroline behind, driving off with her glasses still in the car. Caroline never makes it home that night, leaving her single mother Lisa (Marika Engelhardt) to slowly unravel as she frantically starts the search for Caroline. The girls in her school, some of whom she used to be friends with, are deeply affected by her disappearance, too. As is Andy who can’t bring himself to admit to his relationship with Caroline and the way they parted that night. The longer Caroline stays missing, the worse things get for all of them.

Knives and Skin was one of the best discoveries for me at this year’s Viennale. A surreal musical that manages to be funny at the same time as being emotionally devastating, it completely stole my heart.

The film poster showing a young woman with a bloody head, a woman in profile in pink and a young woman with warrior paint in her face.

Knives and Skin plays with sound and volume a lot. Going from quiet moments to loud ones (both literally and figuratively), it creates an unsettled atmosphere that underscores the characters’ emotions in interesting ways. Part of that is the way it uses famous songs, most of them stripped down to choral a cappella versions.

Sometimes, it’s very funny. But even when it is funny, the emotional impact is very real, even when those emotions aren’t funny at all. A particular standout here is Marika Engelhardt’s Lisa. Her pain about her missing daughter is always there. Her grief takes on many forms and some of them are outright ridiculous. But even when it’s laughable, that laughter just emphasizes her anguish. Engelhardt’s performance is everything here – she is really fantastic.

April (Aurora Real de Asua), Charlotte (Ireon Roach) and Afra (Haley Bolithon) sitting in the bleachers at night.

But the film is more about the teenage girls and how they are affected by the disappearance of one of them, even if Caroline occupied a strange position in their lives. Reeder touches on many topics that anyone who’s been or is a teenage girl will be familiar with – and in the film’s heightened universe they take on new shapes and meanings.

There is a feminist note to all of this that I definitely loved. But mostly it’s the film’s emotionality that left the biggest impression for me, as well as its idiosyncratic style. It’s a film that’s very much its own – and it made me more than curious to get my hands on Reeder’s other films.

Laurel (Kayla Carter), Joanna (Grace Smith) and Charlotte (Ireon Roach) bringing Lisa Harper (Marika Engelhardt) casseroles.

Summarizing: Wonderful.

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