Don't Knock Twice
A mother desperate to reconnect with her troubled daughter becomes embroiled in the urban legend of a demonic witch.
February 3, 2017
Caradog W. James
The world of horror films is chock full of titles with specific and tantalizing warnings – rules which are made to be broken: Don’t Look in the Basement, Don’t Look Now, Don’t Answer the Phone and the recent Never Open the Door (read my review here).
A new British horror flick called Don’t Knock Twice is about to have a limited theatrical run and will arrive on VOD on February 3rd.
An appropriate phrase to employ here would be, “Don’t make a mediocre film”. But that clever jab at the film’s title doesn’t mean the film completely failed, but we’ll get to those details shortly.
Former drug addict and successful sculptress Jess (Oculus’ and Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff) is attempting a reconciliation with her estranged daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton of The Blackcoat’s Daughter), who has been living in a home for girls for almost a decade, after Jess went off the deep end with her addiction and was unable to care for her daughter. Chloe has become involved with a superstitious practice and an urban legend of knocking on the door of an abandoned house – once believed to have been inhabited by a witch. The thing is, if you knock once, you wake the hag up. If you knock twice, she’ll come for you. Of course, we’d have no movie if someone didn’t knock twice, so Chloe and a friend do so. The friend disappears and Chloe retreats to the home of Jess and her husband – who goes away on business. The mother/daughter team must first believe in what is happening and then deal with the consequences of that “double knock”.
When you break down a film, there are basically two things which you can discuss; the technical side and the emotional side.
Don’t Knock Twice succeeds on practically every technical front. The locations were stunning. The score from Steve Moore and James Edward Barker was pitch perfect and stylistically called out to horror scores of the ‘80s – namely with some influence from the work of Carpenter.
The film hits all of the right notes that a respectable horror film should. The makeup effects are flawless, the lighting inspired and frightening and the “boo” moments extremely effective and imaginative.
There are also several amazing transitions which will have you nodding your head while whispering, “That’s so cool”, the greatest of which has to do with a bed pillow – just stunning.
Add into this mix, strong performances from Sackhoff and Boynton and “technically”, you should have a winner. I liked both performances from the two leads, and the casting was exceptional (I bought their biological ties), but their relationship wasn’t as well defined as I would have liked. So while the relationship on the page wasn’t strong enough, there was also a lack of chemistry between the two actresses. I didn’t buy a bond, even when we were meant to see those ties that bind – strengthening and being tested. Good work from the actresses, but the script failed them.
So what went wrong?
Well, we’ll argue that screenwriting and story are also technical components of a film. But other than performance and perhaps music – nothing is more important to having an emotional impact (that side opposite the technical) on an audience.
Don’t Knock Twice failed in this category. You have a beautifully shot film with inspired achievements from your craftsmen, but – as is so often a complaint from this reviewer – if we are not emotionally invested and gung-ho to go on a ride with these characters, then there’s ultimately no point.
It’s rare that I’ll give up quickly on a film. And this film was no exception. Experiences with films like this make me feel like “The Little Engine that Could”. The train’s chuggin’ along and picking up speed, but things begin to fall apart and the hills become too much to overcome. And when the film looks as good as this, you’re rooting for it to bring you back, to sweep away the problems and make a lasting impression. Don’t Knock Twice couldn’t do it.
There are also dreadful pacing issues as the film meanders through its second act. At a short 95 minutes, you’d expect a quick, no-nonsense, “get in & get out” horror flick… but that’s not what you’ll get. There’s never enough build as things become more dire for the mother/daughter team, and so the early promise (and the set-up is very promising indeed) is wasted and the audience will lose interest.
But I must give a shout-out to the brilliant work of makeup character actor Javier Botet – whom I first discovered in the amazing Spanish import Witching and Bitching (see my full review here). With his prolific work in films like Mama, the REC series, Crimson Peak and The Conjuring 2 (he’s “The Crooked Man”) he’s quickly becoming a rival to Guillermo Del Toro’s go-to man for these kinds of roles, Doug Jones. In this, Botet is terrifying as a demon creature we only ever see in shadow. His uniquely elongated body (a result of Marfan Syndrome) and 6’6” frame makes for otherworldly movements and eerie performances. His IMDb page has him listed in the casts for hotly anticipated horror films; Insidious 4, Annabelle 2 and It.
And appearing as Detective Boardman is Nick Moran of the Harry Potter series.
The final attempts at a wacky reveal are not bad, but frankly, I wasn’t properly engaged by that point, so while semi-interesting – it was just too late.
The film was written by Nick Ostler and Mark Huckerby – the team behind 2015’s Howl (check out my review here). I also placed that film in the “mediocre” category. I’m sensing a pattern.
Stylistically, Don’t Knock Twice is an absolute winner. Story and screenplay (especially the doldrums pacing) receive a low grade. That emotional side I mentioned above – it just wasn’t there.
Call me a broken record if you must, but this is another glowing example of “it all needs to be there on the page”. If your script isn’t quite ready for prime-time, then get it there before you cast, plan, shoot and release your final product.