To get the obvious out of the way first – yes, writer-director Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin is very reminiscent of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. However, it’s not just another rehash of a perfect-seeming community whose sordid secrets are brought to light after the death of a high school girl – it’s as much an argument with Twin Peaks as an imitation of it, presenting teenage girls who are magical but not idealised, and indeed allowed to be as eccentric and wilfully odd as their character actor parents. It’s notably absent an obsessed, middle-aged male investigator – in fact, all the men and boys in the film are ciphers or symbol figures in the way women too often are in guy-made movies – but also doesn’t even try to be a murder mystery or police procedural. From the first, it’s lit up by little glowing touches of magic – a shining wound that then never stops bleeding – that no one remarks on, and there’s an air of the casually strange throughout, exemplified by directorial enthusiasms for odd things like a capella covers of ‘80s pop songs and inexplicable bits of art direction like the silver foil pillow one neurotic Mom lays her head on.
It opens with Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley), in her drum majorette outfit, and High School football player Andy Kitzmiller (Tim Hopper) fumbling through the build-up to some sexual exchange … when Carolyn changes her mind, Andy shoves her away and drives off, leaving her in the middle of nowhere. She hits her head and crawls off, not so much to die as to be transformed – and Andy proves what a shit he is by keeping quiet when Carolyn doesn’t come home, and her increasingly distraught mother (Marika Engelhardt) starts literally sniffing for clues. However, though this is the thread on which the story hangs, the film has as much time for the odd entanglements of several interconnected families and friend groups … with the elder generation having breakdowns and affairs, and daughters pursuing their own odd, intimate interests. There’s some low-wattage romance – straight and lesbian – and Andy’s sister Lynn (Audrey Francis) shows entrepreneurial spirit by selling her Mom’s used underwear to perverts. It might be a John Waters scenario, except for the entrancing tone – and the pinpricks of actual cruelty that show why these girls are having to grow thick skins to resist the knives.