Knives and Skin

A tender, feminist teen noir that redefines the high school movie.

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Knives and Skin

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Director: Jennifer Reeder

Presented by: Jennifer Reeder

Starring: Marika Engelhardt, Kate Arrington, Grace Smith, Ireon Roach, Kayla Carter, Ty Olwin, Tim Hopper


2019, USA, 111 minutes, Digital, NR

Language: English

Distributor: WTFilms

Filmmaker Q&A: Jennifer Reeder

Born in Ohio, USA in 1973, Jennifer graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Her multi-award-winning feature films, which have screened at numerous international festivals, focus on stories about relationships, trauma and dealing with such experiences. In 2015, her film Blood Below the Skin screened in Berlinale Shorts; in 2016, Crystal Lake featured in the Generation programme.

Program Notes

In a Midwestern town that runs on disappointment and denial, Carolyn Harper, the drum majorette at Big River High, goes missing in the woods down by the lake after a bad date with the football star, who’s actually going with the daughter of the sheriff, who’s drifting apart from his pregnant wife, who’s having an affair with the local clown, whose daughter makes bank selling used panties to town fathers. The serpentine secrets are just the outer layer of the latest from outré Chicago filmmaker Jennifer Reeder, who cross-pollinates John Hughes with lurid Lynchian melodrama, stabs of horror, sparks of magical realism, and a bracing jolt of girl power to cultivate a subversive, deliciously strange teen flick reinvention.


Following her 2017 lesbian romance Signature Move, Reeder molds themes and motifs that animated her award-winning short films A Million Miles Away and Blood Below the Skin — ‘80s pop culture, a cappella singalongs, coming of age as a lifelong process — into a moody, dreamy, darkly funny feminist teen noir. Carolyn’s disappearance sets off a roundelay of revelations and reshuffles relationships among her semi-estranged middle school besties: queer-curious cheerleader Laurel (Kayla Carter), war-painted goth Charlotte (Ireon Roach), and sardonic bookworm Joanna (Grace Smith), whose coping mechanisms are already sorely tested by the daily bruising of high school sexual politics and parents too preoccupied by their own failures and insecurities to navigate genuine trauma for themselves, let alone their kids.


Reeder keeps the weirdness bubbling at just the right low boil while dexterously balancing ominous small-town soap, batty wit, and genuine feeling for both her characters and the genre tropes she’s turning inside out. She’s abetted by a terrific young cast, lush neon-kitsch production design and, in the movie’s most ingenious narrative stroke, a Greek chorus of New Wave hits rearranged for choir. You’ll never hear “Our Lips Are Sealed” or “Blue Monday” the same way again. (Andy Markowitz)


Berlin International Film Festival
Maryland Film Festival

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