Alzheimer's runs in my family. Genetic disposition tells me that eventually I will experience my mind start to crumble and my grip on what’s real and what’s not fade away. Knives and Skin, a new film from writer/director Jennifer Reeder, seems like a pretty good preview of what I have to look forward to.
The film, an absurdist dark comedy, is an absolutely delightful trip through the profound and the parody. Watching it is to sit in a state of confusion and bewilderment, unsure of what to laugh and what to cry at. Reeder is chasing the spirit of Twin Peaks with her film, about a small town dealing with the disappearance of a teenage girl by retreating into their personal idiosyncrasies. Whether or not Reeder succeeds in capturing the tone of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s seminal television show will be up to the viewer. This is a weird, weird movie and one whose tone will be abrasively obtuse to most audiences. That said, there’s a clown giving oral sex to a pregnant woman - so stick around, folks!
The film, in its nearly two hour running time, deals with toxic masculinity, burgeoning sexuality, grief, infidelity, aforementioned clown oral sex, queer identity, high school drama and beaver mascots. Oh, and it’s also a musical, with characters frequently singing somber, mostly acapella renditions of ‘80s pop songs by bands such as Modern English and Cyndi Lauper.
Knives and Skin follows the tradition of surrealist bro movies like Donnie Darko, in which the line between serious and silly is often blurred, but from the perspective of a really cool bro that Film Twitter will absolutely identify with despite (or, if we’re being realistic, because) the characters’ extreme social awkwardness. The idea of one of these films coming from the point-of-view of a female filmmaker is a welcome one and the result is a movie that has a lot of new and original ideas to sell, even if it may sometimes stumble in delivering the message.
The film does not shy away from being weird - right off the bat audiences are told that they should not expect a film firmly entrenched in reality. That said, it takes a while for Reeder to clue audiences in on the fact that the film is a comedy. This slow roll out of the humor leads to an awkward first few minutes - in which a young woman is left for dead after getting into a fight with a would be sexual partner. After a dark opening like that, it will take a while for audiences to become comfortable laughing - and some audiences may never reach that point. Heck, I’m not even completely sure at what I was and wasn’t supposed to be laughing at.
The movie is marching to the beat of its own drum - and that’s a fantastic thing. Its willingness to be its own animal is super admirable - audiences expectations be damned. The film wants to dig deep into what it’s like being a teenage girl but it also wants to have weird non-sequitur gags that wouldn't be out of place in an Adult Swim sketch. Teachers coming on to students, principals wanting to buy used underwear from their students, moms and dads not speaking to each other - these are all normal things high schoolers have to deal with on a daily basis, right?
Knives and Skin is exactly the movie it wants to be and it has no desire to stop and let audiences know what kind of movie that is. You’re either going to be in on the tone of this film or put off by it completely. As for me, the quickest way for a movie to win my heart is for it to inexplicably turn into a musical and, by the time a dead teenager started singing as she decomposed away in a ditch, I knew I was with this movie all the way to the end. I just hope I was supposed to be laughing as hard as I was. I’m still not a hundred percent sure.