Genre-bending ‘Knives and Skin’ an inclusive, twisty teen noir

Writer/Director Jennifer Reeder’s teen noir is an ode to all-things-cult-film that came before. Set in a suburban Chicago high school, it’s Riverdale meets Carrie (and no, not the Carrie-themed episode of Riverdale). Part coming-of-age and part thriller, Knives and Skin is uniquely its own genre with a strong female presence in front of and behind the camera. (3.5/5)

Review by Vice President and Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

When a teenage girl goes missing from her small town in suburban Chicago, the Twin Peaks-esque mystery of her disappearance looms over her Big River High School classmates. Reeder sets the tone from the opening scene, cutting back and forth from teenage Carolyn (Raven Whitley) being verbally and physically attacked by her jock boyfriend (Ty Olwin) to Carolyn’s mother Lisa (Marika Engelhardt) holding a sharp knife and sneaking around her daughter’s room. It’s bizarre and intriguing as the surreal story unfolds and introduces the entirety of the cast, primarily made up of young women and/or multi-racial actors. In doing so, Reeder bends the high school drama toward the future: same-sex couples, mixed-race families, etc. 

It’s largely progressive while at the same time being a composite of cult favorites: the aforementioned David Lynch series Twin Peaks as well as Heathers and Donnie Darko. Viewers follow along as families, friends, teachers and a local sheriff piece together Carolyn’s fate – in a completely opposite of Law and Order: SVU kind of way. There’s well, knives and skin, and a jewelry box full of teeth and blood and sex and violence. It’s out there – and that may be exactly what moviegoers are looking for.

Themes of young adults grappling with their love lives and school stresses may not seem new or revolutionary, but due to this story’s eccentricities, it’s surprisingly refreshing. The costuming, music and dialogue add to what Reeder is going for, each element contributing to the unsettling mood. As part of Newcity’s Chicago Film Project, Knives and Skin is another example of all the Chicagoland area has to offer in terms of moviemaking, providing a landscape of John Hughes nostalgia and John Carpenter creepiness – something cinematographer Christopher Rejano understands, as he captures the noir-like aspects of quarrytown Lemont, Illinois.

With the sheer amount of characters and storylines, this feature film feels more like a television pilot and its second, third and fourth episodes, perhaps a compliment seeing as how there is more potential here for the characters to live on  … no pun intended. 

© Brigid K. Presecky (12/5/19) FF2 Media

Photos: Knives and Skin

Photo credits: Newcity’s Chicago Film Project 

Q: Does Knives and Skin pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?


One of the best aspects of the film is its relationships between female characters.

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Brigid Presecky began her career in journalism at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. In 2008, she joined FF2 Media as a part-time film critic and multimedia editor. Receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Bradley University, she moved to Los Angeles where she worked in development, production and publicity for Berlanti Productions, Entertainment Tonight and Warner Bros. Studios, respectively. Returning to her journalistic roots in Chicago, she is now a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and certified Rotten Tomatoes Film Critic.
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