Review by Sean Boelman
Knives and Skin, written and directed by Jennifer Reeder, is a new avant-garde teen noir that isn’t quite like anything else to come out this year. However, despite the extremely stylish nature of the film, the script is less than satisfying and ultimately doesn’t have enough substance to make this anything more than an exercise in visual self-indulgence.
The film tells the story of a community as they are torn apart following the disappearance of a teenage girl. One of the biggest issues with this film is that it tries to juggle too many storylines. There are simply too many moving parts in this story, and it is frequently frustrating when one of them begins to pick up legitimate steam only for Reeder to cut away to another one that isn’t as compelling.
Additionally, since there are so many characters, it is difficult for the film to develop them all adequately. As is the case with the similarly-themed Stranger Things, the first wrong turn this film makes is in allowing a character about whom very little is known to disappear. Since the viewer isn’t invested in this character before the disappearance, there is precious little reason to care about the story as a whole.
Yet even though there is an apparent overabundance of things happening in the story, the film ultimately feels dreadfully stagnant. There are some interesting interactions every once in a while, but they feel strewn together by a thin narrative that doesn’t really go anywhere, or at least it doesn’t go in a riveting direction.
Reeder’s use of dialogue is also mostly ineffective. Much of the film is written in a very surreal and deadpan way, and while this does play into the bizarre fantasy world which Reeder is trying to build, it also undermines some of the realism that could have resulted from the characters’ interactions. More often than not, the matter-of-fact way in which the characters are speaking is distracting.
For an ensemble-driven film, it is disappointing that the cast isn’t stronger. Granted, a lot of blame can be placed on the script and the fact that it doesn’t give the actors much to do. Raven Whitley, for example, does a solid job as the girl whose disappearance is the catalyst of the film’s conflict, but she is only given two or three scenes in which she is able to shine.
This film’s real successes all occur on a stylistic level. Reeder has a very clear vision for what she wants the film to be, and she is obviously very talented behind the camera, but the script sadly just isn’t up to par. Visually, the film switches between being bright and colorful to dark and neon-soaked, and it is admittedly gorgeous. The choice of music in the soundtrack is pretty interesting too.
There is a lot of potential within Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin, but the script is written in a way that makes it unpleasant to watch. Although the unabashedly bizarre style of the film will likely gain it some cult followers, it isn’t entertaining enough to gain much traction.
Knives and Skin is now available on VOD.