Caradog W. James’ new feature Don’t Knock Twice is an interesting film, but not necessarily for the reasons you would initially expect. On the surface, this is a traditional horror story, with a supernatural folklore element running through it. But delve a little deeper and what you find is a bleak family drama that continues the parent-child theme James used to great effect in his previous film The Machine.
Jess (Sackhoff) is an artist desperate to connect with her estranged daughter Chloe (Boynton). Her attempts appear futile due to the family being plagued by a demon that is thought to be nothing more than an urban myth.
Watching Don’t Knock Twice sees you slowly becoming less concerned with the horror element and more engaged with the unfolding drama. Much of this is down to the performances from Sackhoff and Boynton, both of whom are intense and wholly believable in roles that could easily have become wearing to the viewer. There is little joy in their lives, and the ongoing troubles they face in their strained relationship are exacerbated by an inability to shake off a vengeful spirit.
As far as James is concerned, he set himself extremely high standards with The Machine, and as you would expect Don’t Knock Twice is visually striking, peppered with a macabre beauty. There is an aesthetic of creeping weariness, as if the energy has been forcibly drained which strongly reflects in the plight of the characters. Balanced with this are encounters with a supernatural being which are as gripping and stylish as they are kinetically charged. One scene set in a kitchen will rekindle horrific memories of childhood nightmares, and may even instigate more.
Sadly, visual quality will only carry a film so far and in its quieter moments Don’t Knock Twice suffers from an underdeveloped script and story. The cast, Jess and Chloe aside, are given little to work with. Nick Moran is underused as the curiously attentive detective charged with debunking Chloe’s story and James favourite Pooneh Hajimhammadi plays a woefully stereotypical “messenger of doom”. All this conspires to give the film an underlying sense of contrivance as familiar tropes you’ve seen time and again are ticked off.
That said, Don’t Knock Twice is still a superior film when compared to many of the recent additions to the genre. But is it truly a horror? In truth James’ film is a tale rooted in drama with supernatural horror elements. Intriguing while you’re watching, visually engaging throughout, but apart from the scene in the kitchen, it just isn’t quite as good as you hoped it would be.
DON’T KNOCK TWICE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: CARADOG W. JAMES / SCREENPLAY: MARK HUCKERBY, NICK OSTLER / STARRING: KATEE SACKHOFF, LUCY BOYNTON, JAVIER BOTET / RELEASE DATE: 31ST MARCH (VOD); APRIL 3RD (DVD)