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Tribeca 2019: "Knives and Skin"

Team Experience reporting from Tribeca Film Festival. Here's Jason Adams

If someone you had a crush on in high school suddenly handed you a crude anatomical drawing of your genitals how might you have reacted? I, uhh, sure can think of a few reactions I might have had. But several of them would have involved a smile, a chuckle - anything but utmost sincerity, which in this instance would have a tinge of the absurd. And that tinge turns trickle turns ten-fold flood in Knives and Skin, writer-director Jennifer Reeder's surreal small-town murder-mystery that feels beamed in from another planet; one where the reactions are all upside down.

It all starts with a missing blonde girl, tipping its Twin Peaks cap right off the bat...

Bespectacled teen dream Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) gets ditched by her boyfriend (Ty Olwin) for side-stepping his sexual advances. Before you can say "Laura Palmer" or "Cousin Maddy" two times fast she's gone up like a puff of neon-saturated cigarette smoke. Carolyn's friends and family start the necessary searching, but as if swathed in molasses -- turns out things work a little different, time and spatially speaking, in this particular Heathers-by-Fellini fever-dream.

And much like those crude-doodled genitals that I opened this review with I spent a good portion of Knives and Skin unsure of my own reaction to what I was experiencing -- when you first meet a filmmaker taking as high-risk a tightrope walk as Reeder is here you kind of want to make sure that they stick their landing; that it's not an untrained flail about on the wire plunging y'all to your doom. Plainly, I had to figure out how to decipher Reeder's language as she went along.

Her references are clear -- a whole lot of the aforementioned Lynch, but also maybe Donnie Darko from Jena Malone's place, and then there's the musical sequence straight out of Magnolia. Knives and Skin is a lot of a lot on first glance, and keeps being even more of a lot as it goes. But the good news is that accumulatively it really does add up to something -- the film reveals itself as funny, heartfelt, and deliciously strange by its end. And now that I can speak its language better I wanted nothing more than to re-watch it the second it was done -- the film reshaped me to its image and I get it, genitals and all.

Knives and Skin plays tonight and Thursday 5/2 at Tribeca Film Festival

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Reader Comments (1)

I love the sound of this, though for some reason it's reminding me of the descriptions for "Bang Bang Baby" - another film fest Lynch-ian musical from a few years back that kind of sank without a trace. Here's hoping I enjoy this one more.

April 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

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