An elegant, laconic modern noir where the mystery of a young girl’s disappearance is lost within the mystery of the teenage experience itself, Knives and Skin plays like an eerie fusion of Brick, Twin Peaks and Heathers, with an almost giallo infused visual language that ebbs with intent, threat and magic in every frame.

After a young drum majorette disappears, a community in rural Illinois is left bare to suspicion and secrets that have long simmered begin to rise to the surface. A group of teenagers come closer as the ripples of the mystery force them to face questions about their own relationships, moralities and identities.

Knives and Skin abounds with strangeness. Much like Twin Peaks, the teen community in all it’s quiet unease is a microcosm for the quite frankly fucked up adult community, where the petty lies and doubts that threaten to consume the young have already swallowed and spat out the jaded and broken adults, unable to connect with each other, let alone support and guide their children. It’s a stark portrayal of the disaffection and dislocation that young people can be caught within. However, director Jennifer Reeder is able to balance these tones with an acerbic wit and biting humour through the character’s dialogue, which absolutely stings with a rhythm and pointed caustic edge that’s absolutely dripping with sarcasm, practiced apathy and humour. This combination, reinforced by the eschewed nature of the atmosphere, heightens a fear that is so familiar to the teen experience and expands it into something more cosmic and all consuming, balancing that perfect knife edge of horror and humour.

Visually, Knives and Skin is utterly gorgeous; a colour palette of greens, blues and reds shifts from intense to pastel, hued in a dreamy haze. The lighting glows with an almost phosphorescent illness, reminiscent of the luminous technicolor nightmares of Argento’s Suspiria, caught in the strangeness of Reeder’s lingering camera as it analyses and fetishizes the details and textures of the world that surrounds the teenagers, investigating where the reality and fantasy meet.

However, music plays as important a role as the imagery in setting the tone of the film with a disquieting synth soundtrack pulsing like a fading heartbeat, an audible reminder of the missing life that has come to haunt the community, Perhaps the most evocative use of music are the haunting a capella renditions of pop songs from the past as motif. These moments become a part of the film’s language, a real connection between the characters in a world of façade and doubt. One sequence in particular beautifully illustrates the love between two young women by dissolving the close up of one over the other while they each sing the same song, the music bridging the physical distance with emotional closeness. It’s simple but it’s tender and expressive in the midst of the crises around them; indeed, though filled with flourishes of technique and cool confidence, Reeder’s vision transcends precisely in that elegant expression of and commitment to an evocative, strong and pure female voice. One that carries love, hate, disillusionment and hope in the darkest and strangest of places.

Perhaps a touch too laconic and distant at times for all audiences, as it’s ethereal tone and glacial pacing takes some of the sting out of the momentum, Knives and Skin is ultimately a heartbreaking meditation on youth, loss and their inevitable collision. A bold and defiant female led noir, delirious and disturbing, it demands attention and has the potential to be a generation defining work of cult teen cinema.

Arrow Video Frightfest Review: Knives And Skin
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About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: