Genre : Thriller
Rating : Unrated
Director: Jennifer Reeder
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.
Links : IMDB
Knives and Skin is now in theaters and on VOD
Blood and Money | If You Admire Tom Berrenger, You Should Of Course Watch This One
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.
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
The Silencing | Great Cinematography From A Low Budget Film
I need to see that girl.
She could be my daughter.
It’s always nice to see how actors from a successful television series cope in a feature film. And especially if the genre is quite different from what they played in that series. Here Nikolaj Coster-Waldau makes a decent attempt to show that he has more to offer than playing a king’s son who prefers to perform gymnastic exercises with his sister between the sheets. His performance here is on a similar level to that of Jaime Lannister in “Game of Thrones”. Convincing enough, but not exactly of exceptional quality. A role that doesn’t annoy you. But every time you see his face somewhere, you have to think for a moment where you know that face from. This is also the case here in “The Silencing”. I was like, “Damn, where do I know this guy from?”. Only after fifteen minutes or so, I could figure it out.
Where there’s grief, there’s booze.
“The Silencing” itself is of the same level. Certainly not a bad movie. But also not a movie that’ll blow you away. The story felt a bit incomplete to me. There were some improbabilities (not to say completely nonsensical decisions). And the denouement with the disclosure of the perpetrator and his motivation, I personally found a bit far-fetched. The film had something “Silence of the Lambs“-ish but then set in an extensive, forest-like nature reserve. An area managed by Rayborn Swanson (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) that has been given the name “Gwen Swanson sanctuary”. A reference to his daughter who has been missing for 5 years. It’s a place where animals can live undisturbed and protected, far from hunters and poachers. Rayborn lives an isolated life far from the civilized world. A way to silently grief about the loss of his daughter. Usually by consuming liters of alcohol. A bit strange because that’s exactly what caused that disappearance.
There’s a serial killer on the loose.
The story gets a little bit more exciting the moment a serial killer comes into the picture. Someone who probably watched “The Hunt” too much. What follows, is a cat-and-mouse game with the participation of the local female sheriff Alice Gustafson (Annabelle Wallis, series-loving fans will recognize her from “Peaky Blinders”) who herself has her hands full with the stupidities her little brother Brooks (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), a drug addict with a traumatic past.
Without a doubt, this could have been a much better, coherent movie, provided the script was changed a bit. It’s linked together with hooks and eyes. Full of coincidences and ridiculous twists. Decisions are made that are too ridiculous for words. Alice’s surprising action at one point is understandable on the one hand. But on the other hand completely unreal. And the indifference that those involved show afterward as if nothing had ever happened, made me frown for a moment. Rayborn’s paint pot trick seemed so absurd and stupid that I spontaneously burst out laughing. Not exactly applicable to a serious thriller about a serial killer.
“The Silencing” isn’t so great. A mediocre piece of movie. Actually, you could say that you’ve seen it all before in other movies. And much better movies too. Cinematographically it looks professional (despite the low budget) and the general mood is also good. But, when you love watching exciting flicks with nerve-racking suspense, you’ll be disappointed. The only thing I can’t say anything wrong about is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s acting. Solid and constant. Just like in “Game of Thrones“. Again a pitiful persona. But I’m sure I won’t recognize him in his next feature. Once again.
My rating 5/10
‘Penance Lane’ Brings The Rob Zombie influence
I’m gonna get us out of this.
We’re gonna be okay.
“Penance Lane” is something for the fans of cheaply produced B-horror movies that don’t exactly excel when it comes to the storyline. I was actually very curious about this movie after reading the synopsis on IMDb. And the movie poster also looked interesting. So let me say that I started watching the film with a dose of healthy enthusiasm. Unfortunately, that enthusiasm collapsed halfway through the film like a soufflé that has just come out of the oven. It’s a pity though, because the first half was of a decent level.
A dilapidated house.
The prologue in itself made me curious enough and confirmed what I expected. A dilapidated house where some gang members hid after committing a robbery. Such a gang of “badasses” with impressive guns and an attitude as if they can handle the whole world. Unfortunately, they are no match for what is harassing them from dark corners and dark places in this creepy house. Why this was actually the most compelling part of the movie, I don’t really have an explanation for. Maybe because you don’t really know which direction it will go. Is it something demonic or will it be a “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” kind of film?
Let’s bring in the handyman.
Time to introduce the protagonist. Crimson Matthews (Tyler Mane) strolls around the town streets. An ex-convict with a rugged appearance. He gets into a fight with the son of the local Police Captain, when it turns out that this son uses his girlfriend (Scout Taylor-Compton) as a punching bag, and then meets the owner (mother of the girl in question) of the local diner. Crimson doesn’t waste any time and almost immediately seeks a job as a handyman. And he ends up at the abandoned house, apparently owned by the local priest (John Schneider) who hires him without further ado. From the start, it’s clear that our tough hero doesn’t intend to demonstrate ingenious handyman-techniques. It’s also evident that it’s no coincidence he ended up in this house. And that his night’s rest would be disturbed by something that wanders through the house like a shadow, was also to be expected. Despite the fact that there’s sometimes a bit of too exaggerated acting and toe-curling, clumsy dialogues are being used, the film remained fascinating. Till this point anyway. Because somewhere in the middle of the film, the plot twist presents itself and the tone of the film changes drastically.
Do I sense a Rob Zombie influence?
If you look at “Penance Lane” in its entirety in terms of storyline and overall look and feel, you could say that it belongs to Rob Zombie’s oeuvre (albeit among the less successful creations). Coincidentally, there are a number of actors who also appeared in a Rob Zombie movies before. Like Tyler Mane who played Michael Myers in “Halloween II“. Scout Taylor-Compton also played an important role in that film. And then there’s Daniel Roebuck (the Police Captain) who got a role in almost every Rob Zombie movie. It may not have affected the creators of this film, but the least you can say is that it’s extremely coincidental. I’m not a real Rob Zombie adept but I could appreciate his flick “31”.
Ultimately, it was a disappointment.
In the end, “Penance Lane” was a disappointment for me. If the gradation of my enthusiasm were graphed, I’m sure it would resemble any COVID-19 graph. Except that there’s no sign of a “flatten the curve” effect. After its peak, the curve goes very fast to a zero point. Maybe my expectations weren’t met because the concept changed drastically. In the end, it became a kind of thriller without supernatural apparitions. Rather a crime story in which an insane individual has set up a lucrative business activity. The story made no sense and at some point became downright ridiculous. I have learned the following lesson from this. No matter how good a summary sounds or what a movie poster looks like, it’s never a guarantee the movie will be any good. And yet there was, somewhere deeply hidden, an excellent film. Unfortunately, they failed to conjure it.
My rating 3/10
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