“Knives And Skin” remixes and reckons with the ’80s and that’s what sets it apart from a lot of other moody movies and television shows retromaniacally looking back to look forward. There are the easy comparisons here, “Twin Peaks” because this is also about a strange little town and how a missing (dead) young woman makes it all a little stranger and “Donnie Darko” or “Stranger Things” because of its wistfulness and ambition—though really, it looks like a Chromatics video and it feels like a Chromatics album (this is the highest of praise, tbh). And “Knives and Skin,” isn’t made by a dude like most 80s stuff, so it affords teens, especially teen girls, a lot more sophistication and agency. They are allowed to be soft and hard here.
“You treat girls like shit,” one character tells the football creep who is responsible (or let’s just say more responsible) for the missing girl and also tells off every hunk and most nerds in high school movies for decades in the process. If “Knives And Stars” is like “Twin Peaks” it’s like “Twin Peaks” if the entire town was full of Leland Palmers. One character sells her mom’s used underwear to people in the town to “builders, bankers, lawyers, doctors, dads, my history teacher,” she tells mom when mom asks who buys them. A lot of the dialogue is like that, punchy, funny, noir-ish, poetic, cruel. As the school choir sings The Go-Gos’ ‘Our Lips Are Sealed,’ the missing girl’s mom tears up and they stop. She cries and tells them, “Don’t stop, finish the song.” A student stares back and says, “It’s over” in that matter-of-fact duhhhhhh way teens can be.
Things are mercurial here. More like how high school really is than how it’s usually portrayed in movies. Folks float between cliques and most people are forgettable and only a few are legitimately outsiders (also the world of “Knives And Skin” is defiantly outside the extremely white world of a lot of movies about teenage suburbia). And director Jennifer Reeder expands that liminal adolescent feeling to every part of the movie and the swirling complicated plot and the movie hits a fever pitch and then another one and characters spin out of control and the lighting and set design are candy-colored Jodorowsky ecstatic realism and “Knives And Skin” tenses up and refuses catharsis or at least, gives it to you in strange, oblique ways.
Two young women in love across town from one another both sing Modern English’s ‘I Melt With You,’ their faces melting together through gentle dissolves. In a touching “Atlanta”-esque scene, two young black teens flirt, the boy pounding a drum set at her in the yard, and they both agree, “homecoming is for dickheads.” A stunning sequence where the missing dead girl sings Naked Eyes’ ‘Promises Promises’ in her marching band outfit, limp in the grass, her face gray and decayed. A monologue during a school assembly about period blood all over a “Beauty & The Beast” blanket is a quiet highlight. Teen confessional, entry-level flirting, and viscera collide.
“Knives And Skin” is screening on Saturday, May 11 at 10 p.m. at BBox at MICA Gateway and on Sunday, May 12 at 4:30 p.m. at Parkway 3. For more information on MdFF go here.