PANORAMA: KNIVES AND SKIN BY JENNIFER REEDER

This entry was posted on January 23rd, 2020

By Mónica Delgado

In Knives and Skin, American filmmaker Jennifer Reeder returns to the motifs of several of her short films, that from some years now share a trademark of rarefied atmospheres, neon and glitter, to embody feminine adolescent universes. If in the remarkable A Million Miles Away (U.S., 2014), it’s a song from Judas Priest, You’ve got another thing coming, that becomes the reverse of the usual adolescent angst (in the voices of a choir class in a public school), here in her most recent feature, some eighties’ songs from New Order, Modern English or Naked Eyes acquire also the inner dimension of dissatisfaction or strangeness. In some way, the pop imaginary of insatisfaction in times of consent, or the new adolescent anguish far from the codes of films by Gus van sant, Gregg Araki (or to go further back with frivolous comedies like Clueless by Amy Heckerling) take a physiognomy that mixes thriller, romantic comedy and adolescent drama.

The plot behind Knives and Skin is simple and sounds like deja vu. A young student disappears (though we know the causes from the beginning) and her active absence activates certain events that were hidden in the suburbs -where housewives or single mothers stand out. With evident touches to Twin Peaks -or the characters of the town of Blue Velvet, in Knives… there’s almost no investigation or clumsy policemen, but the materialization of maternal anxiety towards the disappearance of a daughter, through nonsense beings and situations. The evoking of the spirit of Lynch’s films or the old works from Reeder itself, generates an ineludible referent, and its the subjugation to certain winks that take the dimension of pastiche, homage or self-quote in this work, to board a different angle of the relationship between women, from the perspective of women and for women.

Despite the plot of this character who disappears in an anodyne suburb, what interests Reeder is to show female characters in unusual gatherings, in inner turmoils, to break certain typical social or biological bonds about the fact of being a mother; this is why we have several scenes of women in state of liberation from their pulsions, whether to solidify a maternal side (with passages of sensible or sickening extremes) or to unlock lesbian love. Rites, passages of initiation, bodies submitted to neon and bright colors, of a gallery of beings of multicultural ascendence, that reflect an America of all bloods, and who sing and seduce a capella (accompanied by music of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner).

With an international premiere in last year’s Berlinale, Knives and Skin shows a filmmaker inside the possibility of building a world of women from several aspects of the feminine representation, where masculine characters are scarce (or minimized to ridicule) and where there’s neither a place for a cliché empowering of the adolescents and their mothers, something that happens in the usual stereotypes of genre cinema nowadays. It’s more a film about fears, or how these women get rid of their fears of the moral corsets, without the antagonist pressure present (almost nobody deals with sexist parents or school repression, except for some bullying scenes). Rather, Knives and Skin is a film of climates, of colors, of senses, of subtleties of a negative Oedipus or Electra complex, that in times also achieves some tragicomedic environments proper to a Gregg Araki’s film of Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, only that the huge difference is the point of view,  a mother in crisis in search for the lost daughter.

Director, screenwriter: Jennifer Reeder
Music: Nick Zinner
Cinematography: Christopher Rejano
Cast: Ireon Roach, Kayla Carter, Tim Hopper, Marika Engelhardt, Raven Whitley, Audrey Francis, Kate Arrington, James Vincent Meredith, Ty Olwin, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Tony Fitzpatrick
U.S., 2019, 111 mins