The Wolf Knife -- Film Review

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Largely dispensing with typical conventions of setting, character development and situation, writer-director Laurel Nakadate's drama "The Wolf Knife" cleaves to the core of two teen girls' complex inner lives to expose the boredom, confusion and longing that motivates their often risky choices.

Although the film's commercial prospects appear slim beyond VOD or DVD, Nakadate's reputation as a confrontationally candid filmmaker and visual artist positions "Knife" for extended festival play and specialty exhibition at museums and universities. The film recently had it world premiere in the narrative competition at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

The clinging humidity of a stifling Florida summer isn't all that's troubling 16-year-old Chrissy (Christina Kolozsvary) as she contends with her completely clueless mom (Jacqueline Moran), whose creepy boyfriend's (Arnold Quinteros) come-ons become increasingly unnerving.

Escaping her home to hang out with best friend June (Julie Potratz), the two often scantily dressed girls drift purposelessly around the neighborhood or sneak into neighbors' pools, frequently attracting male attention. Their lingering, oblique conversations touch on family troubles, boys, sex and their own confused thoughts and emotions.

Chrissy, in particular, tentatively presses her attraction for June, who seems unaware of her friend's growing interest despite the almost desperate co-dependency of their relationship. Convinced she needs to escape her suffocating home life, Chrissy persuades June to join her on a road trip to Nashville to locate her absent father, a journey that only intensifies their interaction.

Chrissy's second-act revelation that searching for her dad is not her actual purpose in visiting Nashville sends the girls' friendship into a tailspin, especially after a disturbing encounter with her former elementary school teacher, Mr. Dews (Dave Cloud), which sparks escalating conflict with June.

Stripping her story line down to bare essentials, Nakadate doesn't attempt to explain or even really motivate her characters' dodgy choices, particularly as the girls test the boundaries of their relationship.

Known for her often unsettling photography and video art centering on the uncomfortable intersection of desire and deception, Nakadate brings the same sometimes queasy aesthetic to "Knife" as she did to her first feature, "Stay the Same, Never Change," particularly in scenes in which she frames the leads in sexually charged poses and situations, forcing viewers to consider their own voyeuristic role. Kolozsvary and Potratz play the leads with deceptive naturalism, until a final crisis reveals just how off-center their performances actually are.

Produced with borrowed HD equipment and a minuscule crew, the film almost brazenly displays its distinctly microbudget origins. Although some sequences are noticeably rough around the edges, Nakadate frames others quite deliberately, raising narrative tension with evocative camera placement or movement. Otherwise, the production values are fairly basic, with occasionally poor audio quality sometimes obscuring dialogue.

Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival
Production: December Seventy-Five Prods.
Cast: Christina Kolozsvary, Julie Potratz, Dave Cloud, Arnold Quinteros, J. Fred Cloud, Jacqueline Moran, Steven Shailer, Laurel Nakadate
Director/screenwriter/producer/director of photography/costume designer/editor: Laurel Nakadate
Music: Denise Hradecky, Scott Tuma
No rating, 92 minutes
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