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By Ellisha Izumi von Grunewald.
Don’t Knock Twice comes from Welsh filmmaker Caradog W. James best known for (2013), a modest British scifi. This time James tackles horror, as he continues to make a decent stab at genre filmmaking in the UK.
The film follows Jess (Katee Sackhoff), an American sculptor trying to reconnect with Chloe (Lucy Boynton), her estranged daughter who has been living in a children’s home for most of her life. The young mother returns with an established career, a successful husband and a wealthy home. She invites Chloe to live with her and asks for a second chance this time with more preparation and stability. Chloe reluctantly agrees, seeking refuge when she accidentally awakens local demonic forces and but the horrors follow Chloe and by extension, Jess. Their new house is too large for the small tentative family. Instead of the luxury of space, it’s just empty space. Feeding distance between its inhabitants and providing opportunity for horror and attack.
The film throws a lot of familiar tropes and creepy imagery at you: a cursed old woman, an abandoned house, cocky teens that tease unknown forces, premonitions, the Baba Yaga folktale, unreasonable police, missing children from the past, the list goes on. It’s an attempt at misdirection but comes across as convoluted and plugs the pacing.
However, the film delivers all this in stylish packaging with great cinematography and haunting visuals.
Katee Sackhoff was unfamiliar to me but is well known for her role on cult series Battlestar Galactica. I took notice of her here, in a good performance without vanity in the tradition of the great horror heroine, vulnerable but resilient.
She’s a recovering addict, now teetotal, trying to reconnect with a daughter she had too young. When she returns she wears her hair in a sharp blonde bob, recalling Amy Dunne’s iconic haircut in Gone Girl (2014). It looks artificial and stiff, signifying an attempt at control that could easily slip. Her character is trying hard but pushed to the extreme. Jess wants to protect her daughter and redeem past failings, and the film heightens the pressure on her attempts.
Lucy Boynton has a good go at her role, suitably scared when necessary but she’s miscast playing younger than her age (recently turned 23 but playing a teenager). Whereas in last year’s lauded Sing Street (2016), Boynton shines as the glamourous ‘older girl’ selling the audience on the beautiful yet troubled girl archetype. In Don’t Knock Twice the costume department works hard to give her the wardrobe, hair and make-up of the average teenager but I don’t buy it. Hoodys, leggings, a t-shirt with Kendrick Lamar lyrics and cornrows aren’t enough.
My suspicions were confirmed when I watched her in another low budget, atmospheric horror The Blackcoat’s Daughter (known as February in the UK). Set in a boarding school where two girls are left behind over winter break she plays the haughty older girl to Kiernan Shipka’s sensitive freshman. Maybe it’s the preciseness of her features and stare that age her. In Don’t Knock Twice she delivers the confused angst and vulnerability of a teen but I think her days playing an adolescent are numbered. It doesn’t help that the character seems like it would be more suited to a child, who would sincerely believe in the curse chasing her.
Not great, but not offensively bad. The convoluted story is driven by the strained mother-daughter relationship and masked by a strong performance from Katee Sackhoff and exquisitely shot UK location.
Don’t Knock Twice (2017) Directed by Caradog W. James. 1hr 33mins.
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