DON’T KNOCK TWICE (2016)
Starring Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton and Nick Moran
Directed by Caradog W. James
Written by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler
DON’T KNOCK TWICE is released in cinemas and On Demand from 31st March and DVD 3rd April
“A mother desperate to reconnect with her troubled daughter becomes embroiled in the urban legend of a demonic witch”.
Welsh filmmaker Caradog W. James burst onto the genre scene in 2013 with stylish sci-fi thriller The Machine, which has gained quite the cult following in the time since its release. Low on budget but high on style, The Machine was a homegrown attempt at a Hollywood quality product and, buoyed by two great lead performances, it very nearly achieved it.
James is back now with Don’t Knock Twice, and this time he’s shed the sci-fi and opted for a very traditional attempt at supernatural horror. From the opening titles to the very last frame, James distinct and slick visual style is evident. He packs every scene with inventive lighting and colour, and visceral camerawork, the whole film a feast for the eyes. It makes a change from the usual gritty handheld that we get, with composed shots that give everything a very high end feel.
Another aspect that really helps this thick and polished atmosphere is the score from James Edward Barker and genre fave Steve Moore. While sometimes slightly intrusive, the duo have nonetheless come up with an eerie and memorable theme for the film that reminded me very much of Charles Bernstein’s classic Elm Street score.
The performances are great if purposely subdued. Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica, Oculus) conveys much more than the script by Howl writers Mark Huckerby and Nick Olster allows, and Lucy Boynton, who I caught recently in the absolutely stunning February, is equally innocent and edgy as her troubled mothers equally troubled daughter. It was also great to see Nick Moran of Lock Stock pop up, for a stock cop character that becomes much more interesting as the story progresses . As the film went on though I felt slightly disconnected with the characters. It’s not the fault of the cast, with both Sackhoff and Boynton doing great work. But the pace of the film leaves very little room for character development, often in a rush to deliver a trailer shot or a jump scare.
This in turn affects the actual scares of the film. If we don’t care much about the characters, we don’t fear for them either. Same goes for the antagonist. The film plays its cards a little too early, foregoing the subtle build up and showing most of the big bad quite early, again, rendering it a little less scary. And while the design is indeed creepy and has rightly been earning praise, it reminded me a little too much of the antagonist in last years risible Lights Out.
It’s a shame that one came first because Don’t Knock Twice is easily the better of the two films. I watched an analysis of James Wan’s work recently, observing how he creates an effective jump scare, and the secret is all in the build up. Wan will milk the suspense for as long as he can, avoiding an onslaught of stingers for one big, terrifyingly effective one. But here, everything that can be a jump scare, is a jump scare. And so, they’re less effective.
As it is, Don’t Knock Twice reminded me very much of another British film that attempted to emulate the big budget Hollywood style, action movie Welcome To The Punch. On a surface level, they get everything right, but there’s just something missing. The story lacks originality by default and scenes of exposition stop the film dead. But none of this is enough to take away from what is an ambitious chiller. If you’re a fan of Mama, Insidious, or any one of Blumhouse’s productions, you’ll find a lot of enjoyment in this, and it’s great to see Caradog W. James becoming one of the most visually striking directors on this side of the shore. Hollywood must be calling.