Reviews | Written by Andrew Marshall 14/05/2018

KNUCKLEBALL [DEAD BY DAWN]

When his parents have to attend a funeral, Henry’s parents decide to spare his sensibilities and leave him with his grandfather on the old man’s isolated farm. When a storm descends and cuts them off from what little civilisation is available, family secrets and interaction with a creepy neighbour will make this visit one of Henry’s least favourite.

It’s generally advisable to avoid finding out too much about a film’s content before seeing it, lest any surprises or twists be made apparent to you ahead of time. There are also some films you’re better off going into knowing as little as possible or even nothing at all, and Knuckleball is most definitely one of these.

The plot is straightforward enough that there’s little you can say about it without spoiling its core developments (there are even several obvious comparisons to other films you could make), but suffice to say that Henry ends up alone in a dangerous situation where his very survival depends on his every decision made one moment to the next. But when trapped in a waking nightmare with no permanent safety to be found anywhere, how can he hope to escape?

The isolated setting of the rural farmhouse is augmented by the frozen desolation surrounding it, the pall of the winter sky hanging overhead like a harbinger of the perils to come, while the chill of the icy air seeps into every moment as though gradually draining life of all warmth. When things come to a head, the film is plunged into a blitz of relentless intensity, consistently maintaining a consistent pace that alternately exudes tension and terror in frantic scenes of DIY survival.

While undemanding, that’s not to say that the film is simplistic, and even though there are no issues with following what’s happening, less clear is their catalyst. The reasons behind the situation Henry find himself in are vaguely inferred before being gradually divulged, each new revelation making it ever clearer that it was only a matter of time before this particular powder keg was ignited. By the end not everything is completely spelled out, but enough clues are given that the whole story can be pieced together with little difficulty.

Having a film rely on the skills of a child actor is always a risky proposition, but in Luca Villacis the filmmakers struck gold. Appearing in almost every scene, he carries the weight of the material and maintains an engaging presence that each belies his young age, and proves that his impressive performance in a dual role in the inaugural season of the supremely sinister anthology series Channel Zero wasn’t a fluke. In the early interactions between him and Michael Ironside as the grandfather, he exudes a vulnerability without being overshadowed by one of the scariest actors alive, and likewise holds his own in later scenes opposite Turbo Kid’s Munro Chambers as the ominous neighbour who has secrets of his own.

The blunt simplicity of Knuckleball’s story makes it easy to dive into, while the intense action keeps you riveted right up to its closing moments.

KNUCKLEBALL / CERTIFICATE: TBA / DIRECTOR: MICHAEL PETERSON / SCREENPLAY: MICHAEL PETERSON, KEVIN COCKLE / STARRING: LUCA VILLACIS, MUNRO CHAMBERS, MICHAEL IRONSIDE, KATHLEEN MUNROE, CHENIER HUNDAL / RELEASE DATE: TBA