The word ‘Missing’ is an instant gut punch, spoken and seen. The anxiety of the unknown and impending doom of the worst possible outcome moves through the air like a tangible, evolving evil. While the mystery lingering around a missing loved one is far from the artificial horror of imaginary ghosts and monsters contrived from our imagination, it’s a prominent dark element that hangs in lurid suspension within the constant workings of our psyche. The effects and subsequent aftermath surrounding a small community following the disappearance of a local teenager has been a beloved subject explored by one of the genre’s most established visionaries before. Artist and filmmaker Jennifer Reeder has dared to face the trauma behind her own lens in her feature film, Knives and Skin.

Reeder has perfected the ability to portray an extremely slight, subtle layer of horror represented by exaggerated drama peculiarities graced with biting charm and commendable attitude.

The haunted, sequined melody of Knives and Skin begins odd and off-balance, quickly constructing the complicated relationships between mother and daughter, high school friends, teenage love interests, and the complexities of an immediate family with intensity. When a local student and band member, Carolyn Harper, goes missing after a strange sexual tryst in the woods with the school’s athletic star, the lives of those around her are immediately influenced by the trauma in a variety of effects. The small worlds existing around her collide and crash, fall apart, and come together as the offbeat characters cope with the physical and emotional trauma of Carolyn Harper’s absence. Knives and Skin is one large sequence of consequence, guilt, perseverance, and loss at the hands of missing innocence and death.

Reeder may have aligned the story of Carolyn Harper to that of Laura Palmer a little too closely, but strong-arms all of her unique application to the advantage of successfully reproducing Lynch’s masterpiece for modern audiences.

Twin Plots

Carving a red hot ‘C’ into the forehead of her ordinary town, the mysterious and sudden disappearance of Carolyn Harper may remind viewers of another missing young woman whose vanishing and death shrouded her own town in unease and intrigue. David Lynch’s (Blue Velvet) Twin Peaks is a blatant template on which Jennifer Reeder serves her eccentric, expressive piece to niche audiences. Between the odd dialogue, awkward off-kilter tensions and interactions, and symbolic themes of death and transition balanced with love and attraction, Knives and Skin is heavily reminiscent of Laura Palmer’s consequential death. Reeder applies Lynch’s natural intensity to slowly draw out pique moments of complete provocative behavior in addition to conjuring the attractive secrecy of Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides), joined with the venomous, youthful humor and charm of Michael Lehmann’s Heathers.

Like Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Knives and Skin maintains a layer of ambiguity by adding a razor sharp edge of somber secrecy, complex confusion, and erotic control. The film relies on these darker elements to drive home its overarching theme of identity as the people in Carolyn Harper’s life struggle with their choices and predilections, with feeling invisible, unwanted, and invisible in an alluring, superficial world. Pulling off a plot duplicate of Lynch, as well as immersing her craft in some of his very individual style, Jennifer Reeder manages to succeed in the basics and apply contemporary concepts. Creating a Twin Peaks for the modern genre audience is one spectacular feat, Knives and Skin being an exemplary projection. Lynch’s influence and delusion is there and it’s heavy, but Reeder makes it her own. Reeder has perfected the ability to portray an extremely slight, subtle layer of horror represented by exaggerated drama peculiarities graced with biting charm and commendable attitude.

As a composer, Zimmer elevates the film’s intoxicating pieces, setting up and maintaining the auditory trap catching us between reality, a dream, and a nightmare.

Sound and Style Symmetry

If there is one factor necessary for channeling the properties of David Lynch, sound reigns supreme. Nick Zimmer’s synth soundtrack scores shamelessly reflect the Twin Peaks compositions of Angelo Badalamenti. As the smooth scenes play out, Zimmer’s innocent and pure, but haunting scores run deep and familiar. He modernizes the daunting, nostalgic tempos Badalamenti made untouchable, clearly establishing his ability to control even the wackiest of stories and details with sound alone. Contrasted with upbeat pop singles from the 80’s subdued by the long, soft hum of the young female student a capella choir, the film’s music runs in the vein of a musical, but restrains itself from becoming that exactly. Though the tracks of Knives and Skin and Twin Peaks are indefinitely similar, the moody auditory atmosphere instantly releases ominous and bizarre tones. Zimmer elevates the film’s intoxicating pieces, setting up and maintaining the trap catching us between reality, a dream, and a nightmare.

Scenes of eccentric, nuanced characters and situations transition beautifully along with the tempered synth score. Cinematographer Christopher Rejano’s lens focus and slow moving angles prove to be an incredibly gripping talent. Every move throughout the unusual and expressive Knives and Skin is made with skill, flowing naturally and fluidly. The film confidently utilizes a somber tone built upon set pieces and character design saturated in a brilliant color palette that plays with glitter and teases with neon. The simple suburbia setting is electrified with an edge in a miraculous use of hyper-feminine aesthetic materials thanks to the brilliant costume design of Kate Grube and production design of Adri Siriwatt.

Every move throughout the unusual and expressive Knives and Skin is made with skill, flowing naturally and fluidly. The film confidently utilizes a somber tone built upon set pieces and character design saturated in a brilliant color palette that plays with glitter and teases with neon.

When it comes down to critiquing Knives and Skin as a whole, it is a little ridiculous and bewildering in its ambitiously over-the-top obscurity by way of shock factor. Some of the allegories and symbolism, big and small, will not translate to all viewers as well as others. If you are experiencing Knives and Skin with any forethought or expectations, it is an instant guarantee that you will only be fooling yourself. Reeder may have aligned the story of Carolyn Harper to that of Laura Palmer a little too closely, but strong-arms all of her unique application to the advantage of successfully reproducing Lynch’s masterpiece for modern audiences.

What is truly impressive is Reeder’s ability to keep a completely wild portrayal, narrative, and design from unraveling on itself. At no point does Knives and Skin stray from intention or purpose, every detail from its obvious overall iconic inspiration down to the lipstick color choice on a secondary supporting character is exceptionally controlled. There are no “shit moves” made here and it’s endearing in the most fantastical of calculated enigmatic ways.