Friday, 24 March 2017


Jess, who is now married to a wealthy banker, has become a successful sculptor. But she is a recovering drug addict and nine years ago, at the bottom of her addiction, she gave up her daughter Chloe. Now she would like to resume being Chloe's mother, but at the home where Chloe has grown up, she gets rejected. Chloe and her boyfriend Danny proceed to investigate the local haunted house, into which another boy from the orphanage is reputed to have disappeared. Knocking twice on the front door is supposed to call up the ghost, so there is little question what the two kids will do. And soon after Danny disappears from his room. 

Next thing you know, Chloe has fled to her mother's mansion in the countryside.At this point, the Welsh horror film Don't Knock Twice gets interesting, and the real tension is not in the pursuit by the Baba Yaga Chloe claims she saw, but in the interaction of mother and daughter. 

It's driven by two excellent performances. Director Caradog James gets two great performances from his leads. Katee Sackhoff, channels her unexpected inner Claire Danes (cf her Homeland refrain of 'I'm So Sorry'), is unsettling as a woman whose inner torments are not far from the surface, and seem just as dangerous as the outer ones which make this a horror picture. She's part zombie, part succubus, part mother and she has great trouble sorting those out. Her disjointed intensity is a surprise, as is Lucy Boynton's Chloe: seemingly expected to be a classic horror teen, she makes the most of fighting her torn instincts about her mother, and her aggression plays against that helpless victim teen trope.
Given the parallel ghost story of the old woman in the house, this has the makings of a fascinating set up. Throw in Nick Moran as Detective Boardman, whose close connections to the children's home and the case push him to the point of obsession, and Pooneh Hajimohammadi as Tira, Jess' model with the vaguely eastern European accent and the mystic senses about Baba Yagas, and it's a buildup with much depth.

Unfortunately, not all those depths are really probed as the story resolves itself into its horror B movie self, complete with an Omen-like twist. An almost throwaway but crucial line about slaves makes little sense in terms of the monster we've seen (Javier Botet, who's made of career of such figures) nor of that monster's abilities, which one moment transcend space and the next seem limited to shambling along the ground, and though there is a nice twist before the final reveal, it becomes very standard indeed, and a great disappointment.

In some ways, director Caradog James, in his third feature, seems torn between his tale of family horror and what requires finishing in the mode of Giallo. You can see this in the manipulative score which reflects Argento, and is sometimes annoyingly forwarded, and the deft use of the shocker cut (one in particular is brilliant). But when the film works best it is in the expressive photography from Adam Frisch, and the smoldering interplay of mother and daughter which James clearly relishes. The two elements of the film might have been integrated to deeper emotional effect, but it would have required a different sort of scripting and perhaps more space. I'd have been willing to trust James with that space. 

Trivia Footnote: Ned Dowd is credited as line producer on the movie. Dowd was playing minor league ice hockey for the Johnstown Jets of the old Eastern League, which inspired his sister Nancy to write the screenplay for Slap Shot, still one of the greatest sports movies. Ned has a small part as Ogie Oglethorpe in the film, which will mean a lot to you if you know it. He's produced some fine films, including Last Of The Mohicans and The 13th Warrior

 Don't Knock Twice is in cinemas and on demand 31 March and on DVD 3 April

NOTE: This review will also appear, in a slightly different format, at Crime Time (

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