Skins and Knives (Jennifer Reeder, 2019): USA

Reviewed By Mark Wang. Viewed at the AFI Fest 2019.

Opening with the disappearance of a teen girl and the aftermath gossip that surrounds a small Midwestern town, Knives and Skin (directed by Jennifer Reeder) is a new type of flick that aspires the likes of teenage drama Riverdale and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks tv series yet falls short of this ambition because of horrid storyline and a somewhat bad cinematography. 

The missing teen girl (played by Kate Arrington) sets off drama among the lives of those who are close to her. The use of multiple subplots serves as a commentary on typical social issues such as drug addiction, taboo relationships, and of course, death. There is a plot about a girl and her drug addict mother who overcomes it, bringing the two more closer than ever. There is a plot about a pathetic (a bit loser) man, working as a clown to make ends meet, who finds love in a local woman. There is an uncomfortable plot of the mother of the missing girl who engages in an intimate relationship with the missing girl’s boyfriend. There are others, but the aforementioned ones are the highlights.

This film has an ensemble cast that shares a rather equal screen time. Actors Kate Arrington, Tim Harper, Grace Smith, and others perform well enough to give us convincing characters despite their script being a little stale and flat. I’m convinced that Reeder should have spent a little more time with her actors to figure out what their characters really need to do to pull off truly emotional performances.

Cinematographer Christopher Rejano notably uses harsh lighting to evokes a sort of neon-noir look. The lighting is far dramatic enough for me to think that Reeder has something to say about its use yet I couldn’t entirely grasp it by the end of the viewing. In addition, the extreme use of pink and blue color in lighting is off-putting frankly, to say the least. The use of pink and blue colors is effective in that it helps set this film apart from the typical teenage drama yet jarringly enough to confuses me on what the purpose it serves.

A highlight of this film is the editing and the music. The two combine into a powerful concoction of the emotional atmosphere which aids the reflective vibe that the film attempts to evoke. The scenes of vocals of the girl choir group are the notable and memorable parts, perhaps the saving grace that makes the film somewhat palpable. 

Overall, Knives and Skin may find interests from some people who into the teenage drama genre. But it is definitely not for me.

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