Before Frightfest 2019 began, there had been an influx of recommendations for the film Knives and Skin, with some people even shouting their praises from the rooftops. When a film is given such credit before it’s even been screened, it’s hard not to have reconceptualised expectations about what you’re going to witness. Unfortunately for Jennifer Reeder’s genre film, the pre-festival hype didn’t quite have the desired effect and left myself and many other audience members feeling overwhelmed with disappointment.
In essence Knives and Skin has a simple synopsis, however, simplicity is over complicated as the story progresses. In rural Illinois a young girl, Carolyn Harper, mysteriously disappears and it’s up to the teenage daughters and their mothers to air out the town’s dirty secrets in order to find out the truth behind the girl’s disappearance. Even with such a straightforward plot, Reeder uses a very particular style that adds unnecessary storytelling into the mix. For some, this may be seen as intelligent and emotive character development, but for others, this will come across as a pretentious move to build personalities at every take possible, even trying to build meaning into the way a sandwich is made.
It’s understandable where the inspiration for this bizarre film comes from, but it doesn’t simply take a little influence and use that for a fresh perspective… Knives and Skin unabashedly wants to be Twin Peaks and seems to be a film that is wearing a poorly made David Lynch suit that is tearing at the seams as soon as it’s unveiled. The disappearance of Carolyn is presented with an uncanny resemblance to the finding of Laura Palmer’s body, with an almost identical set design and atmosphere that Lynch brought to our screens. It is an honour to creators when another creator pays homage to them, however, it feels like almost an insult when a filmmaker simply takes an idea of another and tries to pass it as their own, which is how Reeder’s vision comes across.
One aspect that keeps your eyes mesmerised is the original use of colours throughout; there is this a magical element that although never fully understood, becomes a key point for exotic neon colours that glow in the dark and become a luminescent beacon. A few of Carolyn’s belongings have this ability to glow with life, which is perhaps a metaphor for her disappearance or an attempt at diverting the audience towards the clues of who is involved and the fate that lies ahead for her. The neon ellipticals aren’t enough to keep the audience’s full attention, but they ensure the film has something of a unique style that keeps you questioning.
Another visual that leads the film is the utilisation of outfitting. Most films that are recognised for their outfits are historical period pieces in which time, resources and effort were spent in sourcing and recreating the outfits from the times depicted. Knives and Skin does not recreate outfits, but gives all the young characters their own defined sense of style that is unlike anything seen before. By adding these layered flares of character, it helps the audience to immediately understand the type of girls they are and how they want to present themselves to the outside world.
The hardest fall for Knives and Skin comes from its lack of true substance, and it’s try-hard persona. Nothing really happens in this film; it feels like an amalgamation of random scenes that splice together to create this dystopian town where everyone is miserable, oppressed and not really living the life that they wish they were. Due to its lack of actual plot building scenes, it throws in some segments that left me full-on sighing in the audience because of the stupidity; including one part where the tiger on one of the mother’s t-shirts starts talking to her… Which was when people started to walk out of the screening. Finally, Knives and Skin tries far too hard to be a strong piece of empowering feminist cinema, but it’s not. By trying to force feminism into people’s throats without fully understanding what feminism means to many women, it comes across as an uninformed attempt at portraying how women want to be seen. Since watching this film, it’s become quite prevalent that many men feel they can easily mansplain the feminist aspect of this film to other women, but it doesn’t quite work like that.
Knives and Skin did not deserve the hype it received before screening at Frightfest. Nor did it deserve such a solid place in the festival’s line-up; it wasn’t horror, it wasn’t Lynch and it most certainly wasn’t worth the time or money. This film is a feminist wannabe and a Twin Peaks imposter which is disguised in technicolour neon vibrancy.