‘Knives and Skin’

Knives and Skin showcases why horror’s a go-to genre for micro-budgets.

Though the movie’s by no means primarily designed to scare, and is rather more interested in exploring horrific ideas than actually horrifying, it nevertheless establishes itself as being set in a horror milieu, specifically as a progressive riff on the genre’s stock battered, embittered high school “Scream Queens” (and their equally-anguished mothers) in small-town American suburbia, 1980s color palette and all.

While the themes (more on those next paragraph) comment on the genre’s unfortunate norms, this milieu still has the capacity to justify hallmarks of amateurism — rudimentary production values, corny acting, clunky dialogue, wooden line-deliveries, etc. etc. etc. — by passing them off as intentional odes to the genre’s tropes. Clever? Your mileage may vary. But for me, this (deliberate?) clumsiness inhibits the subtext, even if the artifice is part of the subtext (a nod to the mechanical surreality of the genre’s rote, regressive gender roles?).

The cleverest trope nod, however, is in fact a reversal of one; instead of exacting a grisly comeuppance, the women realize the power of nothing more — and nothing less — than their voices, learning from the error of their mothers’ “suffering-in-silence” ways. Speaking truth to — and thereby diminishing their — power is an effective method of preventing future murders, ensuring the death that catalyzes the story was not solely in vain, cast forever into the soundless void six feet under (a repeated lyric in the closing-credits song basically echos/summarizes this arc: “A whisper to a scream“).

The glasses of the fallen seem to be a symbolic motif for her legacy, the closest the living can come to physically embodying what they learned from her, letting her demise change their perspective on how they see their lives. It’s not the same as having her with us — perhaps the reason she walks away from the camera in the final shot — but at least her body’s no longer doomed to be cast aside in this world; thanks to the actions of the loud and living, it looks like her spirit’s finally, peacefully moving on, departing this ugly realm towards a more beautiful forest.

 

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