Friday, December 6, 2019

The Overlook Theatre Reviews: Knives and Skin (2019)

A mystical teen noir that follows a young girl's disappearance in the rural Midwest and its effect on teens and parents.

7 of 7 viewers "Liked" "Knives and Skin" (2019, USA)
Creature reviews have been minimally altered in an attempt to maintain their voice:

Lord Battle - "Mortality is trumped by being "in like", while adulthood is measured by one's emotional restraint in Jennifer Reeder's melodrama masterpiece, Knives and Skin. Now I don't often refer to films as a masterpiece but I really mean it here... Let me try to express why. Knives and Skin is like a TV show comprised solely of Degrassi cliffhangers, haunted by the cynical silent screams of Douglas Sirk. Knives and Skin is the emotional ambiance of Twin Peaks painted in the light of a Mario Bava set. Knives and Skin shows Laura Palmer what it's really like to be a McGuffin. Most importantly Knives and Skin is progressive, edgy, and earnest without being aggressively preachy. I loved it and can't wait to own it in a physical form to work through all the visual metaphor on a 2nd and 3rd watch." - 5 Stars

KillDozer - "Warning! This film seems to inspire some viewers into bursts of laughter or humming along with the soundtrack. With that being said the film "works" and succeeds as an emotional experience that causes an uneasy reaction driven by nervous anxiety. This works the same way a jump scare works with cookie cutter genre films. This is not a horror film in a traditional sense but it does have terrifying elements especially if you are a parent. What is scarier than puberty?!?! Knives and Skin is cinematic proof that a unique and extraordinary artistic vision can be accomplished in a world overrun with remakes. This is a film you experience. one more warning this is not a straightforward genre title!" - 3.5 Stars

Math Mage - "Surreal exploration of several dysfunctional families full of strange, compelling characters. Very good though not my favorite type of film, the drama that wasn't quite a musical." - 3.5 Stars

Dr. Gonzo - "This film was meant for a select audience, particularly if you're a fan of David Lynch, Twin Peaks style characters. The bizarre story implemented crossovers and conflict. It took us in so many directions. Yes, it's a story of a girl who's killed, but it leaves us thinking and wanting to create our own timeline of the events. All the characters in the movie are relatable. My favorite is the sad clown. Might seem so irrelevant to a casual audience, but I understood the metaphor. This film is full of metaphors. You can pick and choose which ones you relate to. Enjoy this movie, it went there, and wasn't scared to take us. It was a fun film, I recommend it." - 4 Stars

Clark Little - "Jennifer Reeder has reinstilled my faith in contemporary melodrama. Knives and Skin is a creative, funny and heartfelt examination of adolescence and parenting. The cast works in perfect harmony due to the meticulous direction of their maestro, Reeder. If you need the comparison to Twin Peaks to compel you to watch this, so be it. However, this film is of its own universe and should be treated as such." - 4.5 Stars

Wondering Panda - "Girl goes missing and the effects on the people/community with low key musical symphony/duet/solo. On paper this film should be up my alley, right? But the more I write about it the more disappointed I get, because this could have been great as a full on musical that tackles dark subjects like Sweeney Todd or Les Miserable. But they didn't do that!! They open so many doors but don't fully commit. In the end I felt like one of mister Todd's patrons, numb and sliding head first to hard concrete. I'm sorry that's too rough, it's an okay movie in the end." - 3 Stars

Huntress - "Knives and Skin is a teen drama full of dark humor, heartbreak and a touch of fantasy. It’s set in a small town that is devoid of good role models but full of awful adults, so it’s not hard to understand why all the teens we get to know can’t wait to graduate and leave. The movie looks amazing with many of the uncomfortable and tense moments being set to gorgeous neon lighting, which in no way detracts from their tension but does make them more interesting to look at. I was conflicted about the musical numbers at first, but the format quickly grew on me. And judging from the number of people singing along, I think the rest of the audience agrees. I was left with a lot of questions but I don't think Knives and Skin will not have a hard time finding an audience that will love and celebrate it." - 3.5 Stars

The Overlook Theatre Final Rating*
(Below is for after you've seen the film)

After the Overlook screening of Jennifer Reeder's Knives and Skin, there were many discussions going on. People enjoyed the song selection and commented on other audience members' animated reactions to certain scenes. And then the subject of genre came up, as one theatre creature commented that this was not a horror movie, at least not in the typical sense. To that, KillDozer (the only parent among us) responded that it most certainly is! And being that he was the only one able to connect to the film from the point of view of a father of two girls, he had plenty that he wanted to ask. And Jennifer was graciously willing to answer everything.


KillDozer: As a writer and director, how do you begin to assemble a complex film like Knives and Skin? When did the initial inspiration hit? Would you consider this a compilation of many ideas or did you have a single focus in mind?

Jennifer Reeder: Knives and Skin is related to themes I have explored in some of my recent short films (A Million Miles Away and Blood Below the Skin for instance, which are both free and public on my Vimeo page). I have made many films about the experiences of girls and women. Specifically, teen girls who are empowered and empowering, and adult women who are experiencing a kind of second coming-of-age. Knives and Skin was born directly from an image (that is used in the film) of three misfit teen girls walking to school along a rural two-lane road. That contrast is semi-autobiographical. Then I built the story from there making sure it had some robust internal logic. The world of Knives and Skin is specific.

KD: I have read reviews telling me that Knives and Skin is a "female movie" and full of "extreme feminism", do you feel that this film connects more with a female audience? Does that idea do a disservice to your work?

JR: This is a film about female empowerment, but I believe that when women are empowered, ALL genders win. My feminism is a spectrum where we all belong. We should all be committed to human equality. Perhaps some reviewers are emphasizing the female characters because so many other films do not consistently offer multi-dimensional female characters. This is a film for EVERYONE. I promise.

KD: The color pallet of Knives and Skin is incredible. The lighting is intense but never distracting. Was this part of the script? How did you go about using these color and lighting techniques in a way that wouldn't take away from what was happening on screen?

JR: The production design of this film, which includes the lighting and the color palette, are part of the narrative content so I never considered that this would distract from the plot, but only enhance. I wanted this film to feel like it was hovering above reality and vibrating with grrrl power energy. For me, cinema is art and no direction should ignore the visual language.

KD: In your opinion does Knives and Skin fall into a particular genre of film? I read it described it as "Mystical Teen Noir" and "a coming of age thriller", do you agree with this or is that something you would rather leave to the audience?

JR: I totally agree with these descriptions. This film is a lot at once, which was totally intentional. It’s almost as though the film itself is experiencing coming of age….it’s transforming as you watch it.

KD: Have you attended screenings of Knives and Skin? What has your experience been like seeing your work in a theatre? Do you pay attention to the reaction of the audience? Are you ever surprised at the reaction your work receives?

JR: I love watching this film with an audience. I am always surprised what parts make people LAUGH, GASP, SOB, WINCE…. There is a reaction for everyone. It’s quite a range, which was written into the script of course.

KD: Was it hard to find support for this film? Knives and Skin is not something I would consider easily marketable. How do you get people to buy into your artistic vision?

JR: It was not hard to find robust support for this film. As I mentioned, it’s related thematically to a handful of recent short films that have been properly vetted in coveted film festivals here in the US and abroad. I had a solid fan base who was ready for a feature length film. Audiences in general are ready for challenging content…..they are smart and curious. More producers, like mine, should take chances.

KD: The music of the film is brilliant. How were you able to use such familiar songs in your film? I have heard that acquiring permission to use "hit songs" can be extremely costly and difficult.

JR: I worked with a great company called Groove Garden. We only needed to secure the publishing rights since the songs were re-arranged and re-performed. I am especially obsessed with the score which was composed by Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. He is brilliant.

KD: How involved were you in the casting of the film? The performances felt both powerful and organic. Did you have people in mind when casting or writing the film?

JR: I hand picked every actor in this film. I do not have a film without the performances. We cast this entire film out of Chicago, which has an extremely well respected theatre community….the very best in the country I would say. The awkwardness of the dialogue is grounded in the performances which are solid AF. No film director should EVER underestimate theater actors….they are fearless. I am in awe of the performances in this film.

KD: How do you react to the film reviewers who compare this film to Twin Peaks? Are you inspired by the work of David Lynch? Do you feel that this is a fair comparison or observation from those seeing Knives and Skin?

JR: I don’t mind this comparison. In terms of Lynch though, I have been much more influenced by Blue Velvet or Lost Highway… favorite film about a dead girl is River’s Edge rather than Twin Peaks. I hope that soon some who have seen Knives and Skin first watch some Lynch and wonder if he has been influenced by me. Lynch and I went to Art School rather than Film School and I appreciate how he injects surrealism into storylines.

KD: By the end of this film I was left wanting more. I wanted to live in that world a little longer. Did you have total control when editing the film? Was anything left on the cutting room floor that you regret?

JR: Oh gosh, we (my editor Mike Olenick and I) cut out a lot, which will be available when IFC releases it. But I did have full creative control over the final edit. And I am in development with a new film, so you are about to get your next fix!

KD: You capture the intensity of loss and letting go in a way that prompts me to ask if those elements of the film were written from personal experience?

JR: I have experienced loss…heartbreak and death and I wanted to make a film that portrayed grief as intensely personal and particular. The primary autobiographical element is the courtship between the substitute teacher and the student. I did not know how to process that situation until I was an adult. This is a very much a film about abuses of consent among girls which I started writing before #metoo.

KD: What do you hope people will experience in viewing Knives and Skin?

JR: I like to fast forward to the cosplay sing-a-long screenings of this film. I want audiences to lean WAY into Knives and Skin.

KD: Okay time for some fun/silly questions.... If this film was remade 10 years from now as a Hollywood blockbuster who would direct and who would star?

JR: I would direct with the exact same cast.

KD: What was your favorite film as a teenager and why?

JR: I was obsessed with Hitchcock’s Rebecca….. it’s a female led love triangle/ghost story….from a novel written by Daphne Du Maurier who is a master of psychological thrillers. I would love to remake Rebecca.

KD: What is your favorite high school TV show of all time? 

JR: My So Called Life!!!!!!!!!!

KD: What film impressed you the most from 2019 and why?

JR: I am obsessed with Queen and Slim! More films like this please!!

Be sure to check out Jennifer's previous work on her Vimeo page!
And look for Knives and Skin on VOD and Digital HD starting December 6th!


The Overlook Theatre materialized in a Residence for a screening on 11/7/2019

*Based on the star ratings turned in by character reviewers, others viewed and got to "Dislike" or "Like" but that does not affect the rating.

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