What happened to Carolyn Harper in KNIVES AND SKIN?

KNIVES AND SKIN is a surreal teen noir written and directed by Jennifer Reeder. The film studies the unusual relationships between friends and families in a small town after the disappearance of a teenage girl named Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley).

The film begins with Carolyn’s mother Lisa (Marika Engelhardt) creeping through a darkened house with a large knife. She knocks on Carolyn’s bedroom door, calls her name, and goes inside to find that her daughter isn’t there. She takes a sequined dress out of Carolyn’s closet and puts it on over her clothes. The film’s dreamy soundtrack plays as Carolyn drives to a wooded location by a lake with Andy Kitzmiller (Ty Olwin). Carolyn is wearing a band uniform and it seems she has gone to the lake with Andy to have sex. She’s awkward and adamant about leaving her glasses in the car. It’s clear that Andy doesn’t care about her and only wants to have sex with her. Carolyn hits Andy on the head hard, causing him to start bleeding. They fight and he drives away and leaves her there. The last thing we see is a bloody Carolyn, crawling on the ground, looking for her glasses and calling for help.

We are introduced to Andy’s family, the Kitzmillers as well as another offbeat family, The Darlingtons, the morning after Carolyn disappears. Andy’s father Dan (Tim Hopper) works as a clown and is having an affair with Renee Darlington (Kate Arrington), who is pregnant. The two secretly meet at night and Dan is in his clown makeup. Renee is married to Doug Darlington (James Vincent Meredith), the police chief. It’s obvious the only person in the Darlington family who is happy about Renee being pregnant is Renee.

Everything about this movie, the lighting and cinematography, the moody music, the quirky costume choices, even the disappearance of Carolyn, all of it feels very much like Twin Peaks. And much like Twin Peaks, after the town discovers that Carolyn is missing, everything seems to fall apart. The film is interwoven with shots of Carolyn’s band hat, her body, and blood by the lake and they slowly fade away, almost as if they were never there.

After Carolyn goes missing, her mother never takes off the sequined dress. She seems to be coming completely unhinged, but it’s evident that this began before Carolyn’s disappearance. There are what may be clues to what happened to Carolyn sprinkled throughout the movie, but nothing in this story seems certain. When Carolyn’s body is discovered, it is determined that her death may have been an accident. Seeing her daughter’s body sends her mother Lisa completely over the edge. Carolyn only had a few friends, but strangely, every person in town is affected by her death.

The movie also features typical teenage angst and some great covers of popular songs by the school choir. There is an especially heartbreaking scene where Carolyn’s friends sing “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” to her mother. Nothing ever really makes sense and there are times when the characters deliver nonsensical lines. It almost feels like several short films tied together by a similar theme, because nothing is resolved. This is an incredibly weird movie that is clearly heavily influenced by David Lynch, but fans of his work should embrace this film. Even though it feels like KNIVES AND SKIN puts a lot of effort into resembling a Twin Peaks spinoff, and there is a disappointing lack of resolution in the story, it’s an undeniably fascinating art house thriller that is worthy of checking out.

KNIVES AND SKIN played Saturday, June 1st and Sunday, June 2nd at The Overlook Film Festival.

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