Don’t Knock Twice, 2016.
Directed by Caradog W. James
Starring Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton, Javier Botet, Nick Moran, Jordan Bolger, Pooneh Hajimohammadi, Richard Mylan and Ania Marson
A mother desperate to reconnect with her troubled daughter becomes embroiled in the urban legend of a demonic witch.
The ever-likeable Katee Sackhoff strands herself in a well-made but trite Candyman knock-off that desperately strives to franchise itself out, but leans back on moldy haunted house tropes for the majority.
American sculptor Jess (Sackhoff) attempts to reconnect with her estranged British daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton), who finds herself pursued by a relentless supernatural presence after knocking twice on the derelict home of her town’s deceased resident. Legend says that the demonic manifestation of the woman continues to haunt the house, and doesn’t take too kindly to Chloe’s visit.
Don’t Knock Twice is by no means a terrible film, and in fact it intermittently passes for being really quite watchable. Its most remarkable aspect is surely the relatively compelling central mother-daughter dynamic, which feels tightly bonded to the spine of the story rather than a mere melodramatic affectation. Unfortunately, though, it’s not long before the demon makes a transparent attempt to drive a wedge between the two, and the film begins to feel disappointingly familiar.
In sheer horror terms, this is a thoroughly mixed bag; director Caradog W. James (The Machine) mines plenty of uneasy suspense during several prolonged moments of eerie calm, but there’s also an abundance of lame jump scares and fake-outs that betray his stylish efforts to build tension. It doesn’t help that the narrative elements tying these effective moments together are extremely old-hat.
There’s also a half-baked effort here to make a legend out of the antagonist, as evidenced by the rules of summoning her – knock on her house once to wake her up, and twice to seal your fate – but it amounts to stunningly little in terms of memorable imagery, and therefore seems unlikely to enter the horror pantheon as the filmmakers likely hoped it would.
It’s not until act three that the movie truly loses itself, though, as it doubles down on supernatural breadcrumb-following and a glut of barmy twists, turns and overt silliness, followed by a generic horror flick showdown with a generic horror flick baddie. The final reveal is also exceedingly predictable, but at least there’s an element of savage tragedy to it that works surprisingly well. And yes, anyone who’s ever seen a horror movie will see the final sting coming from a million miles away.
This film’s biggest asset is without question its performances; we all like Katee Sackhoff and she clearly deserves much better than this. For example, it’s head-scratchingly odd how Jess goes from doubting her daughter to totally believing her in mere moments, as though pages went missing from the script or some crucial scenes were cut during editing. Sackhoff’s dedication is never in doubt, though, and the rather Felicity Jones-like Boynton also acquits herself well, helping the film at least avoid one genre cliche; crummy acting.
Don’t Knock Twice is competently directed and surprisingly stylish considering the limitations of the material, complimented by a nifty goth-synth score from James Edward Barker and Steve Moore. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really know if it’s a character drama or a horror film, and ends up satisfying as neither because both sides feel malnourished and not fully committed to. Above all else, the central ghost story is really quite boring, proving entirely unworthy of two solid lead performances.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.