There are touches of Sofia Coppola, David Lynch and Assassination Nation in the decayed suburbia that defines Jennifer Reeder’s quasi-surrealist exploration of communal trauma. Knives and Skins paints a visually arresting, if thematically stunted, portrait of a small midwestern American town reeling from a high-school student’s disappearance. Ultimately its emotional distance, lack of cohesion, and nonexistent follow-through drags down its punk musical promise.
The friends and family of missing schoolgirl Carolyn Harper comprise a sprawling cast, all with their own hidden sadness, loves, and dreams conveyed in a matter-of-fact, almost cold, acting style. While brought together and severely shaken by the tragedy, only a few characters – namely Carolyn’s mother and ex-hookup – have arcs relating to Carolyn’s disappearance. Everyone else struggles with their own infidelities and small and large family violences while the manhunt continues in the background. However, no individual story is given enough depth and significance to elicit engagement.
The film’s highlights are its musical numbers – choral arrangements of pop songs that excellently encapsulate the heightened reality. One breathtaking scene at the film’s midway point reveals what the film could have been; as Carolyn’s mother conducts her classmates in their school choir, they whisper their fears back and forth as the chorus continues in the background. Plans for their own disappearance are delivered with a smile and laugh, while others write their nihilism into cheerleading chants; this is heightened by the chillingly beautiful a capella accompaniment that silences them. Juxtaposing and seamlessly integrating the everyday and absurd proves genuinely profound.
Knives and Skin does not live up to the potential of its philosophies, with its anger lost in its lack of focus. While its neon suburbia and unsettling actions build an uncanny atmosphere, there is very little staying power to these portrayals of rage and disillusionment.
CAST: Grace Smith, Ireon Roach, Kayla Carter, Tim Hopper, Marika
DIRECTOR: Jennifer Reeder
WRITER: Jennifer Reeder
SYNOPSIS: The disappearance of schoolgirl Carolyn Harper rends the facade of normality in a small midwestern US town.