23rd Jul2019

Fantasia 2019: ‘Knives and Skin’ Review

by Alain Elliott

Stars: Marika Engelhardt, Tim Hopper, Kate Arrington, Audrey Francis, Tony Fitzpatrick, James Vincent Meredith, Ty Olwin, Robert T. Cunningham, Alex Moss, Raven Whitley, Genevieve Venjohnson | Written and Directed by Jennifer Reeder

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The disappearance of a female teenager in a small rural town in America starts an almost domino effect of problems for the people that knew her… Knives and Skin is part coming of age drama part dark thriller and it manages to feel like nothing I have seen before.

Director Jennifer Reeder definitely has a certain vision and sees it out completely, even if, for me, it fails to work almost as much as it works. Although we assume it is set in present day, it almost feels like it is set in its own little universe with the fashion, dialogue and sets there own unique thing.

I did enjoy much of the set and costume design though. The three main characters in particular have their own style and they are all very different. But all coming across – like much of the movie – with a modern Eighties vision. The colours, on clothes and many times in lights, are bright and vibrant, while the music also shows off this Eighties connection. The use of many hits from this period is surprisingly fresh and interesting, with many of the songs being A cappella versions. At times Knives and Skins becomes a musical, and for someone that is not a fan of musical cinema, I actually found these scenes as one of my highlights. The choice of songs are good and the singing scenes are perfectly placed. Even the musical score has an eighties, sometimes synth-sounding style and it’s really good – this soundtrack will be listened to time and time again.

The actions of the characters and in particular the dialogue were some of the most jarring parts of the movie for me. At times, the characters seemed to speak like ‘normal’ people and then at other times it just comes across like something that would only be said in a movie. And not in a good way. Some of the lines made the actors come across wooden or just odd, like they weren’t quite sure how to deliver the line. Some of the characters are just plain odd, and that is, I’m sure, how they are supposed to be but it didn’t feel like they were in the right place. Like they were in the wrong movie. I know Knives and Skin is trying to have this quirkiness to it but I felt at time, it tries a little too hard with this. It is also doesn’t feel like we get to know the characters as well as I would have liked. Instead we get bit part story of many many people and not enough of a story from the interesting ones.

And it’s a shame because, in parts, I absolutely loved it. Some of the relationships were sweet and heartfelt, some of the friendships felt very real and relatable and I had a genuine smile on my face for some of the feel good moments.

I feel like I didn’t quite connect with Knives and Skin in a way that I think many people will. I seemed to be constantly switching between loving it and hating it and finished up somewhere in the middle. There’s some really interesting stories and ideas here, with feminism and LGBTQ eventually coming to the forefront but a lot of it gets lost in the shuffle. Knives and Skin still remains very intriguing viewing and one that I will definitely be checking out again.

*** 3/5

Knives and Skin screened on July 18th 2019 as part of this years Fantasia International Film Festival.

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