[Overlook Film Festival] Review: Mystical, Musical and Stunning, KNIVES AND SKIN is Ready to Love

The following review comes from the Overlook Film Festival, one of the most exciting and rapidly growing genre film festivals in the world.

2019 marks the third year of the Overlook Film Festival. While still relatively new, this 4-day long film festival has become one of the most exciting festivals of the year for genre fans. This year, Overlook showcased some of the most anticipated films of the year, including Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin.

Reeder (A Million Miles Away, The Signature Move) wrote and directed this film about a small town thrown into chaos when a teenage girl, Carolyn, goes missing. Her disappearance seems to affect every single person in the rural setting, although to varying degrees. A tragic mystery and surreal happenings force all the deepest, darkest secrets in this place out in the open in all their weirdness.

There is a lot going on in Knives and Skin. At its core, the film is about how a girl’s disappearance forces the residents young and old to take a hard look at themselves and face their own issues. This covers everything from a parent grieving the loss of a child, couples coming to terms with failed marriages, teenage girls deciding who they want to be, teens discovering their sexuality (and their sexual orientation), systematic misogyny in high schools, and so much more. It’s hard to imagine so many different elements working together in a single film, but they do. This is likely because the catalyst for everything is Carolyn’s disappearance.

On top of the various subplots thrown into the film, there are also some bizarre mystical and musical elements in Knives and Skin. Carolyn’s mother is the school choir teacher, so there are multiple scenes where she is shown leading the other teen girls in a unique choir version of popular songs. Not only are these performances great covers of well-known songs, but they also tend to have a deeper meaning relating to what is going on at that point in the film. The music overlaps with the mystical and surreal parts of the film. Carolyn is almost depicted as having a kind of power. Things she touched or things that belonged to her sometimes emit a neon glow. Even more surprising is the fact that Carolyn’s corpse moves. The audience learns almost immediately that Carolyn died, but her body rolls around as if of its own volition in order to avoid detection. It is as if she doesn’t want to be found until the townspeople have worked through their issues. At one point the corpse is even shown singing along with other characters. Genre film fans will likely compare Reeder’s surrealist aesthetic to that of Davis Lynch.

The story and mysticism of the film are enhanced by the stunning visuals. Knives and Skin has absolutely stunning cinematography and lighting. Each scene is carefully framed, each shot meticulously angled.  It turns the film into a true work of art. The neon lights give the film an 80’s dreamlike quality. Knives and Skin also uses fashion to enhance the visual appeal of the film. Most of the people in the small town dress in clothing that adds to the 80’s feel. There is one group of teenage girls that brings some welcome high fashion to the film. Every time these girls are on screen it is like watching a runway show. While I doubt many small towns have girls that dress like this, I ate up every moment of their screen time.

The final piece of the puzzle that completes Knives and Skin is the performances. There is a large ensemble cast, most of them getting fairly equal time on camera. While each and every actor is fantastic, there is one performance that truly stands out. Marika Engelhardt (Patriot, House of Purgatory) plays Carolyn’s mother, Lisa. Engelhardt’s performance is absolutely gut-wrenching. The audience watches as Lisa’s life unravels when her daughter disappears and the strange ways in which she deals with that loss. Also enjoyable to watch are Carolyn’s old friends played by Ireon Roach (Chicago P.D., Princess Cyd), Kayla Carter (Chicago Med, APB), and Grace Smith (Dreaming Grand Avenue, Pry Me Open).

Knives and Skin is a genre-bending, Lynchian drama filled with heart. It is beautiful to watch the numerous characters go through their journeys of self-discovery. The stunning visuals, beautiful music, and strong performances all work in harmony. While this film is definitely not going to be for everyone, it is clear this indie darling will have a cult following of devoted fans.