Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitely) makes out with a football player but when she pushes away his roaming hands, he leaves her alone in the woods. She’s never seen alive again. Her disappearance disrupts her high school and the entire community, as the disappearances of beautiful young white women often do.

In the aftermath of her disappearance, we watch things unravel for her friends, her fellow bandmates and classmates, her mother, and the well-intentioned but inexperienced local sheriff. More than that, though, we experience the way that grief accelerates the coming of age for a group of teenagers, which makes it rather obvious that their parents haven’t exactly completed the growing up process either.

Writer-director Jennifer Reeder creates a very atmospheric teen noir that pulls from a lot of sources but manages to be its very own thing. The closest thing I can compare it to is Twin Peaks for its eerie tone but believe me when I say Knives and Skin is its own gothic soup – a horror broth steeped with many surprising flavours. Reeder brings in familiar tropes and mixes them with haunting songs and feminist references.

The result is hard to categorize but fascinating to watch. If it is uneven, a little long, and prone to meandering; it also feels dreamy and surreal. The story is less concerned about finding Carolyn than it is about exploring the various ways people feel trapped, and subtle reminders that escape is possible. Although it starts off with a dead girl in the woods, it subverts the expectations of that genre over and over with its confident female leads and the weaponization of sex. It’s like a parody, but self-aware and dead serious.

Reeder may value style over narrative, but Knives and Skin interesting, beautiful, and unforgettable.

Screens:
Wednesday, May 29, 9:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox

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