Knives and Skin (2019) [Fantasia Festival 2019]

A teen goes out at night to meet a boy and never makes it back home. As her whole small town is shaken up by her disappearance, everyone does what they can to come to terms with her disappearance and how it affects each of them.

Written and directed by Jennifer Reeder, Knives and Skin is a dark teen musical noir that feels subdued almost in how it approaches everything and everyone whose lives were touched by the disappearance or by the victim herself. This fairly low-key approach gives the viewer time to connect with the characters and reflect. It is known from the start what happened to Carolyn Harper for those watching and what develops from there is not as much a mystery or a whodunit, but an observation of human nature and the plethora of reactions one event can create. The story is enhanced with songs by the in-film choir and girls who sing soft versions of well-known pop hits. This adds an extra little something eerie as it comes and goes while working on the heartstrings and nostalgia. This creates a sort of unfamiliar familiar feeling where things are recognized while still feeling different. This idea adds to the mood in a way that is hard to put into works.

Working with the story and sounds is the cinematography by Christopher Rejano who carefully frames the characters and their interactions. Paired with the editing by Mike Olenick, it all comes together to bring a cohesive look and feeling to the film. Everything brought to the screen through visual and audio works together to create a film that pulls the viewer in and is full of small contradictions in feelings that make people love it or hate it. This is all works with the fantastic cast led by Marika Engelhardt as the mother looking for her daughter and closure. Her performance here is nothing short of amazing. She takes this weird place of losing one’s child and not knowing if they are dead or alive and puts her all behind it. Her grieving, her anger, how she is mad at the world but also just wants someone to help her and tell her everything is going to be ok resonates as very real and very true for a mother having lost her child. Here her performance is basically everything to the film. The rest of the cast is also amazing, but she steals each and every scene she is in, going full on with everything she’s got. This is the kind of performance that makes people take notice while giving grieving mothers something that may perhaps, in a way, feel like it’s the way they feel. She does some odd things here and there, but it all comes together by the end of the film as making sense.

Themes of loss, human connection, craving for something more, wanting more out of life are explored here in a mellow manner that makes everything connect with the viewer on an almost visceral level., Knives and Skin is about more than story or acting or images, it’s about all of it put together to serve feelings create through it all. The film is powerful at this and just doesn’t let you go until the very end. Yes, it’s a teen noir, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s a mystery based in humanity. It’s a film about the loss a mother feels, how various people react to loss and to not-knowing. Knives and Skin is a beautiful story that is at times incredibly sad, but that also gives glimmers of hope for its characters and their lives following their loss and their grief.

Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 11th to August 1st 2019.