No Shocks Here
♦Tripwire gave its Contributing Writer JAMES DC the job of reviewing new horror film Don’t Knock Twice starring Katee Sackhoff…
Don’t Knock Twice
Director: Caradog James
Starring: Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton, Nick Moran
In a nutshell: Cliché-ridden horror, where a mother and daughter bond over generic jump scares
I wonder if there is a level of Hell which is made up from the zillions of boring, plagiaristic, unimaginative, lacklustre, paint-by-numbers horror movies, in which one’s punishment is to be forced to sit and watch such relentless fodder, repeatedly, for all eternity? If so, then this latest putrescent boil on the increasingly degenerative, and derivative, genre of filmic horror definitely will be included.
Even though you will have heard it all before, the basic, well-worn premise of this low-budget Brit-horror goes thus: Jess, a wealthy, trophy-wife artist, is trying to reconcile her relationship with her estranged teenage daughter Chloe, who previously was put in a foster home, due to parental neglect.
Chloe, years before, was tangentially involved with the death of a strange old woman who had been accused of being a witch, after supposedly murdering a young boy. The ‘witch’ eventually committed suicide over the furore, and Chloe still feels some guilt for having effectively hounded her to her death, at the time. Now, years later, Chloe and her boyfriend visit the dead woman’s derelict old house, and – for no good reason – knock twice on the front door, which then releases a revengeful ‘curse’, initiating a series of supernatural events and attacks, all aimed at Chloe and her ilk.
Mother and daughter become closer as they try to solve the puzzle of the ‘witches’ murder, in order to stop the evil spirit. But all is not what it seems, and a shifty detective who originally dealt with the case, as well as Jess’s mysterious female friend – who hands out occultist guidance at opportune moments – become more involved as the curse gradually takes its toll, all heading toward a macabre climax.
Sadly, this is a by the book, cynically commercial horror film, and offers up absolutely nothing new. It is rare that a horror film comes along ingenious and powerful enough to reinvent the beleaguered, tired genre, and so we have to endure shallow, formulaic tripe like this. Don’t Knock Twice shamelessly drags out a list of all the usual horror trope guff, all set within a half-hearted, Gothic-lite milieu: the sculptress creates clay figures of tormented fallen angels in her studio which, of course, just happens to be a beautiful but creepy old church; then there are the usual wide-eyed, ‘terrified’ stares and tedious jump scares every 5 minutes; half-seen, ‘corner of the eye’ ghostly apparitions which flash up from nowhere, then are gone, seconds later; taps which suddenly gush blood; astoundingly cliché characters who would have been terribly out of date even by the 1940s, like the Spanish occultist who offers ‘mystical’ advice (riffing on the gypsy type seer), and the belligerent detective who actually proclaims “It’s a nasty business!”. Then, to top it all off, a laughably stupid scene where the troubled girl is given a bowl of carrot soup, which offers up a bloodied molar tooth, despite the fact that the soup is ‘organic’, as her mother approvingly bleats. It is at times like this that the supposed horror elements unwittingly transform into pure comedic parody – which would be fine if the film’s premise allowed irony or pastiche, but in this case the ludicrous ‘tooth-soup’ scene was meant in deadly earnestness, and that is just tragic, all round.
The copycat references to other, better films, come thick and fast: The axe through the door, plus the grotesque old woman, from The Shining; the spider-walk demon from the Exorcist and The Ring; the person sucked through a hellish, interdimensional portal from Poltergeist; the witnessing of a supernatural attack via choppy, rough video footage (a laptop camera, in this case), as in The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity and countless others since; the cruciform levitation from The Exorcist (again), et al…the list goes on. Oh, and don’t forget the sub-John Carpenter ’80s electronic/ambient soundtrack, which seems to be back in vogue and de rigueur in the horror genre, at the moment.
There is an interesting ‘realist’ subplot here about difficult mother/daughter relations, but it doesn’t supply anything more than a story armature with which to hang all the set pieces on. Besides, such story elements feel distinctly ‘soapy’ and therefore carry little gravitas, anyway. The acting isn’t up to much, either – though ex-Battlestar Galactica star Katee Sackhoff, who plays the mother, makes a decent fist of what little she has to work with.
I suppose, being overly generous, there is the odd ‘neat’ moment here and there, and the film – minimally – does what it says on the tin, but that just isn’t enough to pare your cash from your pocket these days; this latest generic gloop will slip easily into the glut of uninspired and repetitive horror out there – only dyed-in-the-wool horror movie obsessives will get any enjoyment from this tired old skeleton. Perhaps the filmmakers did genuinely try their best to produce something other than superficial, lowest common denominator rubbish, but scant original ideas, meaning or style make this effort distinctly pedestrian and instantly forgettable. However, the most damning offence is that Don’t Knock Twice is not scary, spooky, terrifying or disturbing (the usual requisite elements for a good horror film) in the slightest.
Don’t Knock Twice is out in UK cinemas from Monday 27 March.