DON’T KNOCK TWICE
Directed by Caradog W. James
Save from the obvious one last year, Suspiria and The Craft there’s really not been a lot of good films about witches. And then even among those ones, they subvert the old hag cliché somewhat. Well fear not black magic fans, for here’s an old school horror that uses witchcraft to test a mother-daughter relationship. Even more importantly, it also doesn’t suck.
Said mother and daughter combo are recovering drug addict artist Jess (Sackhoff), and her estranged offspring Chloe (Boynton). To make their troubled relationship worse, the latter is the sort of rebel who sneaks out at night to hang around a creepy old house with her friend (Bolger). But it’s not just any creepy old house! No, this is a creepy old house where an alleged child killer lived. And an old urban legend says tapping the door twice will bring her back from the dead. Of course, teenagers being teenagers, her a friend do it and she has a curse on her. After some strange things start happening she starts to take it seriously and, with her mum, tries to get to the bottom of it. Still, at least they get to do some much needed bonding on the way.
Whilst this naturally sounds like Chloe’s arc, it soon smoothly transitions into Jess’, with the thematic focus being her maternal fears of losing a daughter again and her lingering guilt for failing first time. Refreshingly neither character is depicted as a saint either meaning they’re not your usual horror victims. The family drama scenes are generally very believable, with both leads taking their role with both hands despite the fantastical context underlying them. It’s a credit to the writing team that they take some time to let these scenes breathe. Because there’s really not a lot of other slow points in a film that constantly moves without feeling like it’s really going forward.
Elsewhere there’s simply too much happening too fast and too seriously. In the absence of the fun that makes other ghost train horrors work it becomes just a little tedious for viewers. Well-constructed they may be, the haunting scenes feel like crescendos without climaxes. This is unfortunate, as the creature designs are pretty damn good, and a lot of these scenes are really well done: the sort of bits that could easily make for brilliant shorts. In particular there’s a social media sequence that showed movies like Unfriended how to do it properly, and a red lit bit that was genuinely quite terrifying. However, as with when you used to make mix tapes, a series of good bits don’t necessarily function as a whole. This issue is emphasised by how boring the evil force is, with it not having anything like the same good characterisation as our heroine-duo.
Luckily the end of the film is, unusually for this sort of film, very strong. Typically the last act is where supernatural horrors suffer. Yet the one for Don’t Knock Twice is arguably a far better pay off than one could reasonably expect from a sometimes dull setup. For a start, some of the pacing issues are resolved, finally allowing the tension to build. Secondly, there’s a really neat pay off that I’ll say no more about at risk of spoilers. Suffice to say the final product goes out on a high note. No, it isn’t one that deserves to be talked about in the same breath as the witch movies mentioned at the start. But then not every movie’s going to be a classic, and if you want a new and accomplished spookfest then you could do much, much worse than this one.
Don’t Knock Twice is in cinemas and on demand 31 March and on DVD 3 April