Ginger Nuts of Horror
In UK cinemas 31 March and On Demand & DVD 3 April
Don't Knock Twice hits the big screen today and on demand on Monday, to celebrate the launch of this British film we have two reviews for your reading pleasure. One from regular Ginger Nuts of Horror contributor Joe X Young, and one from Daniel Marc Chant one half of the fantastic Sinister Horror Company, one of the finest publishers of horror in the UK. You can check out Dan's books here.
Read on to find out what they they thought of the film.
DON’T KNOCK TWICE Review by Daniel Marc Chant
Among the most successful horror films of recent years, many have concentrated on the emotional and interpersonal dynamics of their protagonists, with some electrifying results. The Babadook, It Follows and The Monster respectively explored narrative themes of grief, promiscuity, and dysfunctional familial relationships first, and their ‘boogeymen’ second.
Horror has always reflected our emotional and cultural fears, illuminating our collective anxieties, as facing our own inner demons is far more unsettling and horrific than any monster or spirit could ever be.
DON’T KNOCK TWICE draws inspiration heavily from this well, as it tells the tale of Jess (played by the always reliable Katee Sackhoff) attempting to mend the frayed bonds with her daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton). Chloe has spent the last ten years in foster care due to her mother’s former addiction issues and, on a typically dark and stormy night, Chloe turns up unannounced at her mother’s home to seek refuge.
Chloe, and her boyfriend Danny (Jordan Bolger), had carelessly played chicken with an urban legend about a child-stealing witch and her (now abandoned) house. In a Candyman-style spin, legend says the witch will appear if you knock not once, but twice. And I’ll let you have a guess what they did.
Danny’s subsequent disappearance makes Chloe run to safety, to the only place she knows, her mother’s. And shortly thereafter the family begins to be haunted by a strange gangly witch. The creature, in this case, is a spin on the Baba Yaga legend. A long-limbed and twisted witch played with unnaturally creepy aplomb by Javier Botet (he of [Rec] and The Conjuring 2 fame), who is steadily forging his position as the new Doug Jones.
Director Caradog James quickly and effectively establishes a brooding atmosphere, offering the expected jump scares and typically voguish synth score, with a few nods to both Spielberg and ’70s giallo. It’s therefore a shame that the competent direction isn’t matched by an equally competent script, exposition often clumsily halts any building tension and the mythology it desperately tries to build for its own legend is often undermined by plot convenience, and an attempt to keep things moving hurriedly along.
The cast do the best with what they have, and often the most memorable moments are when they are given room to breathe away from the leaden dialogue. Ultimately the human drama never reaches its potential, despite some promising moments, and the horror elements often fall back on established tropes. If they had just zigged instead of zagged it could have subverted expectations and the genre trappings it creates for itself. With the scares being interesting but rarely effective, it’s refreshing to have two fiery leads in Sackhoff and Boynton, who both wed themselves to their character’s emotions and events with conviction. A pity then that the script doesn’t do the same.
DON’T KNOCK TWICE attempts to blend an emotional family drama with a supernatural witch, and has mixed results. It’s a good-looking film and one with momentum always rolling on to the next scary set piece so anyone finding a quick fix creature feature will find something to enjoy. But any scares are swiftly evaporated thanks to numerous leaps of logic and an inexplicable need to convince you, nay show you, how scary and interesting the witch really is. If this film’s peers have taught us anything, it’s that the emotional and interpersonal dynamics of the protagonists should have been first, and their ‘boogeymen’ second.
DON'T KNOCK TWICE by Joe X Young
Don’t Knock Twice.
I can’t really knock it that much.
When I first saw ‘Sgrin Cymru’ come up at the beginning of the film I thought something along the lines of ‘Oh shit’, mainly because the Welsh are not known for producing horror films. What’s that you say? Surely there are loads of Welsh horror films! Actually there are relatively few, even ‘Wales Online’ struggled to put together a list of ten, citing such examples as ‘An American Werewolf in London’ as one because the opening sequence was filmed in Wales. They also mention 2005’s ‘The Dark’, with Sean Bean’s dreadful Welsh accent in which he can’t pronounce his daughter’s name properly. It was set in Wales, about the Welsh, it even had possessed sheep, but was actually filmed in the Isle of Man because Wales apparently ‘didn’t look Welsh enough’ for the production team.
So I approached ‘Don’t Knock Twice’ with limited expectations.
The general idea here is that of a haunted house with a door the local kids knock on, but if you knock twice you are basically in a world of trouble because the witch inside will getcha! Oooh… Scary. Standard stuff, after all we’ve seen so many similar ‘urban legend’ based supernatural tales from the likes of Beetlejuice, Candyman and Bloody Mary that it really isn’t all that inspiring. So, I was off to a rocky start, but I have to admit I found it wholly ENJOYABLE.
It’s an above average Creepfest which delivers a lot of atmosphere, and it’s actually a lot more interesting than many of its contemporaries. It does in fact come up with the goods in that there’s a lot of good ideas throughout which are not reliant on the jump-scares to carry it and a couple of scenes which I caught myself wincing at. Never a bad thing.
The acting for the most part is good with Katie Sackhoff as Jess, a Sculptor with a past history of addiction which led to her abandoning daughter Chloe, played by Lucy Boynton in a care home. Both female leads bring an unusual amount of personality to their roles with a credible level of frostiness on Chloe’s behalf and the overall feeling that everything is going to remain tense no matter what happens to them as the now penitent Jess wants to make amends with a daughter who clearly hates her. Sackhoff’s acting in particular is superb, which makes me wonder if she isn’t actually wasted in this film, even though it’s a good film, it just seems as if she belongs in something better. Richard Mylan plays Ben, Jess’s new husband who is not Chloe’s dad. Ben’s a banker who is hardly present throughout most of the film (business trip), which is one of the fallow spots and in my opinion not a wise move as he’s a good enough actor to have had much more involvement; instead he is more of a quite lame plot device.
Technical aspects are all good with this, the camerawork is excellent, the soundtrack is not intrusive and the score really works well. The special effects are suitably creepy even if borrowing heavily from the likes of Mama and myriad others.
Chloe has a boyfriend, he’s a throwaway stereotype and mercifully he’s not around much, which is for the best as the acting is dreadful. Another one bringing the film down is Pooneh Hajimohammadi as Tira, her character is fairly throwaway, basically there for exposition and for a scene toward the end of the film which really the director could have made a significantly bigger impact with if they’d expanded on it. I won’t give a spoiler; you’ll know it when you see it.
So far it all seems like a ‘mixed bag’, and it is, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the film, it’s actually one of the better films I’ve seen lately and I much preferred it to the likes of ‘It Follows’ and ‘The Other Side of the Door’. The film does suffer from a bit of an identity crisis, there’s a lot of good content here, in particular the use of doors throughout, but I can’t help thinking that it perhaps should have chosen a single theme and milked it rather than putting so much in that just didn’t feel as if it belonged. Aspects of it seemed as if it were made up of various scenes which had ended up on the cutting room floor from other recent movies. The whole sub-plot with Nick Moran’s defective detective was a near-miss in that the overall concept was fine, the handling was ok, but to be honest it too was also in need of expansion. Too much time appeared to be devoted to things which didn’t really matter much when the focus should really have been on what made this film more interesting than average. All in all it was trying to be too clever and almost… ALMOST pulled it off.
I’m still going to give it a thumbs-up though because it was in fact entertaining, it had some novelty to it, and the acting for the most part was fine. As a horror film it works well. Watch it with the lights off and the doors LOCKED.