David Lynch is one of the greatest directors of all time. He has made some of the most memorable movies ever seen and his influence is impossible to ignore. It comes as no surprise that his name is a descriptor. But what does it mean if a movie is Lynchian? For the most part, it seems like a catchall term when someone does not know how to describe a movie. Then, there are films like 2019’s Knives and Skin.
The plot centers on the disappearance of a high school student. The entire town is soon drawn into the mystery. The story introduces the audience to the odd inhabitants of the sleepy little town. Music and direction stand out as much as the story. Sometimes, it is confusing and even seems like sensory overload. Sound familiar?
Director Jennifer Reeder wears her inspirations on her sleeve. Knives and Skin is not so much an homage to Lynch as it is to just Twin Peaks. The missing girl and strange townspeople are not the only familiar callbacks. The movie is filled with music that is from a different era and and interesting use of color. The film has a look and sound that sets it apart from any other movie that came out in 2019.
Looking so much like a cult favorite has plenty of drawbacks. It is impossible not to compare the movie to the source material. This puts Knives and Skin at a disadvantage right off the bat. Twin Peaks is a groundbreaking series that has a passionate fanbase. It is a great source of inspiration, but it also sets a high bar to be measured against.
Knives and Skin patterns itself too closely to Lynch’s television show. So much so, it is impossible to not directly compare the two. In doing so, the 2019 movie does not hold up well to scrutiny. It is not as charming or fun and lacks the daring. The characters and moments lack the same impact. The film never does enough to stand on its own.
This is most evident in the pacing of Knives and Skin. A number of interesting characters and subplots are introduced. Every member of the community has various quirks that are explored. Some are given lip service that comes off as pointless. Others are admittedly interesting. Predictably, it all becomes too much. It is hard to escape the feeling this was meant to be more of a long term story instead of just a one off film.
This may be the most frustrating part about the movie. Knives and Skin is actually very good. The soundtrack is great. Many scenes show the high school’s music club rehearsing. These include various 1980’s favorites from New Order and Cyndi Lauper, among others. These interludes transcend other high school musicals and give insight into the characters. They also give foundation to a movie that can be too wild and erratic at times.
Along with the intriguing mystery, some of the side stories are very engaging. Knives and Skin does a great job of building its world and characters. It is easy to feel for the grieving mother. It is a little more difficult to understand the shame filled father. The film is able to draw audiences into even the most obtuse characters. It also does a great job of reaching out to teens. Never childish or trite, it can simply reach out to modern audiences in a way Twin Peaks is no longer able to.
Knives and Skin has a lot going for it. An intriguing mystery, fun to watch characters, and a well done score will keep audiences engaged. Unfortunately, it relies a little to much on its Twin Peaks influence. This includes never having a satisfactory sense of closure. As good as the film gets, it never fully escapes the shadow of the Lynch series.