Hollywood horror goes through stages – in the late ’70s/early ’80s, it was slashers. Then for a few years, we had a ton of vampire movies. After Scream, horror filmmakers focused on meta and parody flicks. Zombies were huge for awhile. Now we’re on the downswing of the possession/ghost/demon movement. Once Hollywood has finally jumped the shark with a specific horror genre, many fans are so tired of it that they’ll bash just about anything that comes down the pipeline. On February 3rd, The Machine‘s Caragog James released Don’t Knock Twice, a film that seems to follow right along with the current Hollywood temperature. Is it just another demon film or is there more to it?
Don’t Knock Twice stars Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica TV series), Lucy Boynton (The Blackcoat’s Daughter 2017), Richard Mylan (The Upside of Anger 2005, Nick Moran (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 2010), Pooneh Hajimohammadi (The Machine 2013) and body actor Javier Botet (Mama 2013). The script was written by Howl’s (2015) Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler. James brought back The Machine’s John Giwa-Amu and Claire Moorsom (Hush 2008) to produce. The haunting music for the film was composed by Steve Moore (V/H/S 2 2013) and James Edward Barker (The Human Centipede II 2011) while the FX were created by the Real FX team led by Danny Hargreaves (Doctor Who TV series).
The official synopsis:
A mother desperate to reconnect with her troubled daughter becomes embroiled in the urban legend of a demonic witch.
The movie starts with Jess (Sackhoff), an American artist living in the UK, as she tries to get custody of her teenage daughter, Chloe (Boynton), who has been in foster care since Jess gave her up years previous due to a serious drug addiction. Now that she’s stable and well off (she’s got a successful sculpting business and she’s married to a banker (Mylan)), she thinks she’s up to the challenge of raising her daughter. Chloe, who feels abandoned by her mother, thinks the whole thing is a crock and is waiting for the shit to hit the fan. So you can imagine the tension.
In the middle of all this, Chloe and her boyfriend, Danny (Jordan Bulger: iBoy 2017), decide to knock on the door of the now deceased neighborhood recluse, Mary Aminov (Ania Marson: Nicholas and Alexandria 1971), who also happens to be the person they blamed for the disappearance of their childhood friend, Michael Flowers. Because this is a horror movie, the urban legend saying that knocking twice on the old lady’s door will invoke her quieted demon spirit is true. The story went something like this: a nasty demon lived in the house with the witch Mary, who did its evil bidding until she committed suicide – either to get away from the demon or because the kids down the street kept playing Ding Dong Ditch. It’s not really clear.
Danny gets ganked by the thing within minutes, but Chloe runs off to her mother’s house in the hopes that she can hide from the Demon Who Knocks. She tells Jess about the Baba Yaga legend pretty early on in the movie, and after some convincing by both Chloe and her live sculptor model Tira (Hajimohammadi), Jess comes to believe that the witch and her demon are real.
Now, if the film had continued from there as a straight up paranormal escapade, it might not have won any awards but at least it would have been a successful, satisfying story. Instead, Don’t Knock Twice becomes a murder mystery, with the witch and her demonic ghost jumping back and forth between evil entities and ethereal Scooby Doos. At least, I think they were two separate beings, but maybe I missed something. I’m still confused by the ending. I don’t want to post any spoilers in here, but if someone wants to give me an explanation in the comments, I’ll give them a cookie.
There were some really cool bits about Don’t Knock Twice, however. First off, I love the way Jess’ dream sequence ended with her head on the pillow. That was a really clever way of letting us know what was going on without the obligatory “gasp and sit up in bed” scene that we usually get. The whole door and knocking motif was also pretty imaginative. There are doors everywhere – who knows what will be behind them? I never would have thought the innocent sound of knuckles tapping against a wooden door would be so terrifying.
I thought the foster/estranged parent story arc was good and went really far to creating tension and untrustworthiness between Jess and Chloe. The demon itself was horrifyingly emaciated and surreal. It seemed like it could just stretch itself from one end of the room to another without even trying like a sentient shadow. James took the Samara/Kayako idea, pulled and kneaded it, painted it black and created an even scarier entity.
Don’t Knock Twice is a spooky, twisted tale that combines several stories to satisfy several different genre fans. Unfortunately, those same plotlines made for a confusing tale, feeling more like they tried to force too many things into one script and didn’t have time to explain it all. If you’re a fan of the demon/ghost subgenre, then you will probably love Don’t Knock Twice. If you aren’t, you might not even bother knocking once.