Written and directed by Jennifer Reeder, "Knives and Skin" is the atmospheric drama set in an American high school when a female student's sudden disappearance / accidental death gets uncovered.
Knives and Skin explores how grief can make people act out in various dysfunctional ways. Lisa Harper (Marika Engelhardt), the mother of the deceased exhibits unhealthy and disturbing behaviors to help cope with the devastating news. Where did the concept for this film originate from and what was the process like writing the screenplay?
That mother is desperate and devastated. She does not know where her child is, which is horrific. All of her senses are heightened. She will do anything to find Carolyn. She has lost the ability for good judgment. Her only focus is her missing daughter. Humans are weird and we do weird things when we are unraveling. This film is very much about the precision of both grief and desire. The script was not hard to write. Knives and Skin is related to themes I have explored in some of my recent short films (A Million Miles Away and Blood Below the Skin for instance, which are both free and public on my Vimeo page). I have made many films about the experiences of girls and women. Specifically, teen girls who are empowered and empowering and adult women who are experiencing a kind of second coming-of-age. Knives and Skin was born directly from an image (that is used in the film) of three misfit teen girls walking to school along a rural two-lane road. That contrast is semi-autobiographical. Then I built the story from there making sure it had some robust internal logic. The world of Knives and Skin is specific.
In Knives and Skin, the characters appear to communicate candidly and explicitly state their inner wants and motivations to each other. Whereas, in reality, people try to be civil and tend to mask intentions through nuances of verbal and non-verbal communication. During production, what directions did you give the cast to help them portray the right emotional notes?
The script is quite melodramatic so my direction to the actors was to lose all affect and lean into the deadpan. It seems to me that the most dramatic conversations we have in our real life are quiet and awkward with deeply restrained emotion. For as weird as this film might seem to some, I consider it robustly authentic. We, humans, are odd.
Photo courtesy of IFC Midnight
What were your favorite scenes to direct for Knives and Skin?
I liked shooting the scene where the “pregnant mom” has her dress ripped off, because it required a fight coordinator. I like the stunts, but I loved all the singing scenes and the Dress Pinning scene with the three main girls who are so intensely talented! Gah! It's so hard to choose. I really loved every moment of making this film!
What were your main inspirations for creating the overall aesthetic and how was it working with cinematographer Christopher Rejano?
Chris is my ride or die, we have made many, many films together and we will make many more together! The production design of this film, which includes the lighting and the color palette is part of the narrative content so I never considered that this would distract from the plot, but only enhance. I wanted this film to feel like it was hovering above reality and vibrating with girl power energy. For me, cinema is art and no direction should ignore the visual language.
Photo courtesy of IFC Midnight
What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
I like to fast forward to the cosplay sing-a-long screenings of this film. I want audiences to lean way into Knives and Skin. Laugh, sob, gasp, wince, there is something in there for everyone.
What films/directors have had the biggest impact on your filmmaking and why?
When I was younger, I was obsessed with Hitchcock’s Rebecca, it’s a female-led love triangle/ghost story from a novel written by Daphne Du Maurier who is a master of psychological thrillers. I would love to remake Rebecca. I went to art school rather than film school so my influences are deeply visual from fashion design to sunsets. I am deeply committed to visual storytelling.