J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Knives and Skin: The Worst of 2019


Who do you think has more deadbolts, chains, and emergency locks on their doors, people who live in New York and Los Angeles or residents of small-town Middle America? If you watch a lot of contemporary, David Lynch-inspired genre films, you might think the latter, but you know it’s the former if you are actually a New Yorker or Angelino. This is the latest film to perpetuate this social-geographical disconnect, but the problems run considerably deeper for Jennifer Reeder’s almost unwatchable Knives and Skin, which opens today in NYC and LA.

Poor high school band musician and majorette Carolyn Harper is about to die from misadventure, but her schoolmates—even her supposed besties—take it in stride. Only her mother Lisa has any kind of reaction, wallowing in depression and perhaps even suffering a trauma-induced psychotic break.

Ironically, Joanna Kitzmiller’s mother is an even bigger basket case, for no clearly established reason. Kitzmiller’s knuckle-dragging jock brother (who happens to be weirdly nebbish looking) is the reason Carolyn Harper found herself in the difficult situation depicted in the prologue, but her mother never puts two-and-two together, even though she can “smell Carolyn on him.” At least, Joanna Kitzmiller is an unusually enterprising Millennial. She sells her mother’s dirty underwear to the pervy high school principal.

Two of Caroyn’s other supposed BFF’s are much more concerned with exploring their awakening lesbian attraction than worrying about their missing friend or jerkweed high school boyfriends. Frankly, they are probably perfectly matched, since there is so little to distinguish them from each other.

Clearly, Reeder has seen way, way, way too much Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet. Alas, Lynch’s flare for idiosyncratic characterization and clever dialogue is completely missing from K&S. Instead, we get empty posing with pretensions of wokeness.


Some of the promotional emails for K&S try to position it as an assault on “The Patriarchy.” Whatever that might be, it is sure to believe this movie really ought to be the most of its worries. The truth is Reeder rains down so many vicious humiliations on Lisa Harper and Marika Englehardt, the thesp who portrays her, any viewer who has an ounce of decency will start to bitterly resent this film. There is a lot of mean-spirited behavior throughout K&S, a great deal of which fails to make any sort of coherent gender-politics statement.

Press accounts have sometimes mislabeled K&S as a musical, but that is a gross misrepresentation of what is up there on the screen. There just happen to be a few dirge-like performances of the world’s most depressing swing choir that Carolyn belonged to and her mother directs. Unfortunately, their ironic renditions of pop hits are both dull and derivative. The same can be said of the film in general. If you want to see a hip genre musical check out Anna and the Apocalypse or Necropolis Symphony, or really any other movie ever produced. Absolutely not recommended to anyone, under any possible circumstances, Knives and Skin opens tonight (12/6) at the IFC Center in New York and the Arena Cinelounge in LA.

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