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Thriller ‘Knives and Skin’ Cuts Deeper Than Most

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Genre : Thriller
Rating : Unrated
Director: Jennifer Reeder

Cast:
Kate Arrington
Tim Hopper
Marika Engelhardt

A small rural town is turned inside out when local student Carolyn Harper goes missing. Despite the best efforts of the suburban sheriff and Carolyn’s mother she cannot be found. As the days go by a wave of fear and distrust slowly begin to seep into the town’s foundations. As more and more townspeople try to figure out how to deal with their shared trauma a collective awakening takes over the town’s youth.

As simple as that synopsis may sound Knives and Skin is so much more. Written and directed by indie favorite Jennifer Reeder (2017’s Signature Move), Knives and Skin is a hard movie to explain. What starts out as a conventional teen thriller becomes a surrealist take that’s two parts Twin Peaks, one-part Rian Johnson’s Brick with a dash of Heathers to help it all go down. And although Knives and Skin is a grounded mystery it tackles so much more including toxic masculinity, LGBTQ issues and shared trauma.

Just as unique is how Reeder and cinematographer Christopher Rejano present their tale of tragedy. Nostalgic for the bright and vibrant look of the 80’s Knives and Skin uses deep blues and reds feel like they belong more in an Argento film than grounded thriller. Just as intricate are the relationships and characterizations of the town’s inhabitants. Mostly focused on Afra (Haley Bolithon), April (Aurora Real de Asua) and Joanna (Grace Smith) the most compelling performance Carolyn’s mother Lisa (Marika Engelhart). Over the course of the film we watch Lisa go from choir teacher and concerned mother to unraveling mess to a weird kind of acceptance. Marika’s performance is able to straddle tightrope between tragic and touching all at the same time.

As unique as Knives and Skin is in presentation it has its drawbacks. By taking inspiration from David Lynch it also replicates his signature acting style. How his style could make a performance feel stacato and suddenly give off a burst of intensity. Or how someone who was a normal teenager in the scene before would do a complete 180 and feel like a nihilistic monster in the next. Although David Lynch has shown that this style of telling a story can work it can just as often feel off putting. Just as confusing is the narrative of the story. Although the story itself is straight forward I found the way it was being told to be a bit jumbled in execution. Needless to say, Knives and Skin isn’t the kind of movie you put on as background noise.

A bit of a sleeper on the festival circuit Knives and Skin emerges as one of the most unique thrillers of the year. Jarring in presentation and story it isn’t for everyone. And that is probably it’s biggest strength. Not only does writer-director Jennifer Reeder show a skill at genre conventions but she also shows a willingness to look at topics we don’t typically talk about in genre cinema. Whether you love it or hate it Knives and Skin will speak to you in some way.

Rating 7/10
Links : IMDB

Knives and Skin is now in theaters and on VOD

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Comedy

Zola Review | An Imaginative, Darkly Comedic Adaptation

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In October 2015, A’Ziah “Zola” King’s 148-part saga of a trip to Florida took Twitter by storm. The viral story was hilarious, suspenseful, and disturbing at times, all told through Zola’s compelling and singular voice. It brought about a new kind of storytelling via social media whose influence lives on in Twitter and newer platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Film is certainly not a new medium but Janicza Bravo’s feature based on the thread offers an experience so fresh and imaginative, it feels like a new form.

Zola (Taylour Paige) befriends Stefani (Riley Keough), a patron at the restaurant she works at. Despite Stefani’s unapologetic use of blaccent and over-the-top ratchedness, the two women (one black and one white) have an instant connection after bonding over stripping and frenemy activity on social media. When the two are together, their surroundings fade as they appear alone in a beautifully lit hall of mirrors. The chemistry between the characters during their first encounters is not unlike the meet-cutes of the rom-com genre. Mica Levi’s music box-like score, along with the film’s shiny visuals, convey a dreamy setting at the beginning that soon becomes a nightmare as the story unfolds.

Stefani invites Zola on a “hoe trip” to Florida, where their plan is to dance and make a ton of money. The women are accompanied by Stefani’s boyfriend Derrick and her shady “roommate” X, played by Nicholas Braun and Colman Domingo. Both characters are contrasting figures in Stefani’s life, with Derrick being hilariously weak while X is terrifyingly controlling. Domingo’s enigmatic performance and flip-flopping accents further prove that he is one of the best character actors working today. 

As soon as the four arrive in Tampa, it is clear that this trip is not what Zola expected and we watch her navigate through a dangerous weekend that, as she says, is “full of suspense.” Bravo gives us a brightly colored palette and Twitter sound effects to capture the outrageousness of the twisty story. Still, it’s Paige’s performance that keeps the film grounded. Paige can adeptly deliver Zola’s sharp wit in Bravo and co-writer Jeremy O. Harris’ script but it’s her more silent moments that give the movie depth. Twitter gave us Zola’s funny take on a night gone wrong, but Paige and her expressive eyes show us her at her most vulnerable. Keough has the difficult task of portraying a woman that will make you laugh, cringe and even feel sorry for her despite all of her wrongdoings. It’s a bold performance (particularly when the movie changes its POV for a bit), but Keough is able to give the character balance and avoids becoming a full blown caricature. 

Not only does Zola tell an entertaining and raucous story, it also exposes the facade of social media presence. Vibrant costumes, candy-colored visuals, and even a car ride turned mini music video all give the impression of a fun and sensory experience but under the surface is a dark story. People’s real lives are different from what they put on their social media accounts and Bravo uses contrasting elements to shed light on the duality of online and offline lives. Zola also breaks down another facade in the form of Zola and Stefani’s interracial friendship. Stefani immediately endears herself to Zola but eventually, her bad intentions come to light. Stefani’s blatant cultural appropriation is played for laughs in the beginning but her betrayal toward Zola is a reminder that in modern society, there are still strides to be made between white women and women of color. Just like Zola says, “the same bitch that wanna smile in your face be the same bitch that gonna come for you later.”

★★★★☆

Zola is now playing in limited U.S. theaters and will be released in UK cinemas on August 6th.

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Comedy

Together Together | Review

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In Together Together, the main character creates an app named Loner where users can view strangers’ photos without ever having to contact them or see them again. It’s an incisive commentary on how social media and dating apps have allowed us to engage with someone for as long as we want and just as easily move on to whoever is next. But what happens when you genuinely connect with someone even though you know the connection cannot be permanent? That’s what happens when two people meet via a gestational surrogacy arrangement. Together Together, Nicole Beckwith’s refreshing and touching dramedy breaks free from the trappings of the rom-com genre by focusing on the power of platonic relationships. 

Matt is a forty-something, single man ready to become a father who enlists Anna, a 26-year-old barista, to be his surrogate. The pair make for an unlikely duo not just because of the age gap but also in their difference of temperament. Ed Helms’ Matt is a well-meaning but overbearing father-to-be, while Patti Harrison’s Anna is dry, witty, and a bit cold before opening up as their friendship develops. Throughout the pregnancy, they begin spending much of their time together during doctor appointments, dinners, and eventually, overnight stays. As the two grow close, audiences might expect to see romance blossom, but writer-director Nikole Beckwith seems to have no interest in the will-they-won’t-they story here.

There are certainly elements of a typical rom-com like witty banter and the sweet getting to know each other conversations. Still, Beckwith consciously chose to spotlight the rarely-portrayed platonic love between a man and woman rather than a romance. Anna and Matt are not only connected through surrogacy but also as people living life “alone.” In a poignant scene, Anna asks Matt why he is having a child alone, and he says he needs to move forward and it just so happens that he’s doing it by himself. He mentions a previous long-term girlfriend, but the film smartly does not delve into his failed relationship or the background of his decision to become a single father. Matt’s unconventional choice is shown to be a bold and earnest one rather than one of desperation.

Anna’s journey through surrogacy is also portrayed in unexpected ways. As a young woman who is not currently in contact with her family, she unwittingly finds herself growing attached to Matt even as he crosses the boundaries of a typical surrogacy arrangement. He drops by her work unexpectedly and questions her about her sex life. While Matt is open and excited to connect with the woman carrying his child, Anna is initially resistant and for a good reason. Anna’s friend and coworker Jules (played hilariously by Julio Torres) reminds her that this time is finite and whatever Anna and Matt are will have to change after she gives birth. Harrison adeptly plays Anna’s heartbreak of knowing this special time in her life will end soon while Matt’s has just begun.

Together Together’s clever and awkward humor and a deep bench of supporting comedic actors (Tig Notaro, Nora Dunn, Fred Melamed, Sufe Bradshaw) are what get the film going, but it’s the genuine tenderness between the protagonists that sustain it to the end. We see this in the film’s seemingly abrupt but fitting final scene. After intimately capturing Anna and Matt as partners in surrogacy, the camera focuses solely on Anna for the concluding shot as we see relief and sadness wash over her face. It’s a reminder that even the most meaningful relationships in our lives aren’t always meant to last forever. 

Together Together is now playing in limited U.S. theaters and will be available on VOD on May 11th.

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indie

Blood and Money | If You Admire Tom Berrenger, You Should Of Course Watch This One

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I just want to get out there and bag my buck.

If you start watching this movie without any prior knowledge, you’d swear it was a flick from the 80s. A film period in which Tom Berenger also played in old-fashioned crime pictures such as “Someone to watch over me” or “Shoot to kill”. I’ll always remember this actor as Sergeant Barnes (the ruthless soldier with a hideous scar who wanted to kill all Vietnamese, no matter what age) from the legendary Vietnam film “Platoon”. It’s true that this all-rounder was a lot younger in this war movie. Tom Berenger has reached the blessed age of 71 this year. But that didn’t stop him from stumbling through the icy landscape of Allagash (a town in the North Maine Woods region) in search of game.

 

 

An old man with a heavy mental burden.

And you can take that stumbling literally. Not only is he an elderly man. Apparently he also suffers from a disease that causes him to cough up blood from time to time. So for Jim Reed (Tom Berenger), it’s a tough job to move through the thick snowpack. In addition, Jim also carries a very heavy mental burden. As the film progresses, this dark secret is revealed little by little. The fact that you see him attend an AA meeting gives you an idea of what’s the source of all his woes. An event that caused this ex-Marine to lose a beloved family member and the rest of his family refusing any contact with him. Actually it’s something similar that Rayborn is going through in “The Silencing”. Coincidentally a movie I’ve seen only recently.

 

 

Oops, wrong deer.

Blood and money” is a terribly slow film. In the first part, we get to know Jim who’s hunting for deer in the vast nature reserve. You witness the solitary life he leads in his converted camper. And the friendly relationship he has with the not so unattractive waitress Debbie (Kristen Hager) in a diner. A desperate woman who would like to leave that godforsaken place and who also has her domestic problems. And then there are the occasional talks with a kind of forest rangers who register those who enter or leave the nature reserve. In short, little to get excited about. Until Jim spots the deer he’s so desperately looking for. He aims and fires a fatal shot. Unfortunately, there won’t be a juicy piece of deer meat on the table during the Christmas season. Because he accidentally shot and fatally injured a woman. And when turns out she’s a member of a gang who just robbed a casino and Jim finds a gym bag full of dollar bills next to her body, you expect the movie to get more action-packed and exciting.

 

 

Non-exciting flick.

Well, that’s what you expected. Right? Forget it. That’s only partly true. It won’t become an impressive or spectacular movie after all. In the first place, you can’t expect a retired hunter with walking difficulties to behave like a crafty, in-shape kind of Rambo. I also had the impression that he always traveled the same route on a limited square kilometer. The advantage is that you can enjoy the idyllic snow landscape immensely. But I’m sure most viewers expected a different kind of entertainment than beautiful “National Geographic” footage. And secondly, you can expect really idiotic bad guys who, provided they had a certain amount of intellect, could have easily overpowered this old guy. The way they were tricked by him sometimes, was downright laughable. Besides finding the bag of dollar bills, Jim isn’t exactly born for luck either. You’ll figure that out every time he manages to capture a weapon.

 

 

It was kind of mediocre.

Blood and Money” won’t leave an everlasting impression. The story itself is nothing new. Only Tom Berrenger makes an impression, given his age. A character role pur sang. Unfortunately, they were unable to go into his personality deep enough. What happened to him in the past remained rather vague. Furthermore, the action part seemed rather amateurish. So it felt like a mediocre film. If you admire Tom Berrenger, you should of course watch this one. However, there are better thrillers that also take place in a snowy landscape.

 

 

My rating 4/10
Links: IMDB

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