'Don't Knock Twice': Film Review

Courtesy of IFC Films
When will horror film characters learn to heed the title and spare us bad movies?

A young woman unleashes a child-stealing witch in this horror film starring Katee Sackhoff and Lucy Boynton.

There’s nothing better than a vengeful witch to help repair the frayed emotional bonds between a mother and a daughter. That seems to be the message of Caradog James’ horror pic which offers sadly derivative scares but also a surprisingly affecting family drama. If it had skipped the clichéd supernatural elements to instead concentrate on the relationship between the two central characters, Don’t Knock Twice might have emerged as an interesting film.

That the two women are portrayed by Katee Sackhoff and up-and-comer Lucy Boynton (Sing Street) is another plus. The former plays Jess, a recovering addict who was forced nine years earlier to place her daughter Chloe in foster care. So she’s more than a little surprised when the now-teenage Chloe shows up at her door one evening.

It seems that Chloe has ignored the cardinal rule of horror films, which is to pay careful heed to the title. Hearing about an urban legend involving an abandoned house inhabited by a child-stealing witch who appears if you knock on her door not once but — wait for it — twice, Chloe and her boyfriend Danny (Jordan Bolger) naturally knock on the door. Care to guess how many times?  

When Danny disappears shortly thereafter, the terrified Chloe seeks refuge at the large house owned by her sculptor mother, now married to a rich banker (Richard Mylan). Things soon inevitably start to go bump in the night, as a gangly, stick-like figure begins making menacing appearances. (It’s played by Spanish actor Javier Botet, who seems to be making a career specialty of playing creepy creatures in films like Mama, [REC] and The Conjuring 2.)

Director James — previously responsible for the acclaimed if little-seen The Machine — effectively orchestrates the horror tropes including jump scares; spooky, dim lighting; an unnerving electronic musical score; and a minor character (Pooneh Hajimohammadi) who has a strange affinity for detecting spectral forces. But the genre conventions are less interesting than the interpersonal dynamics between mother and daughter, with Sackhoff and Boynton delivering fierce, emotionally committed performances. They deserved a better movie.

Production companies: Red & Black Films, Seymour Films
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Cast: Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton, Nick Moran, Richard Moylan, Pooneh Hajimohammadi, Javier Botet
Director: Caradog James
Screenwriters: Mark Huckerby, Nick Ostler
Producers: John Wiwa-Amu, Claire Moorsom
Executive producers: Jamie Carmichael, Alan Martin, Robert Norris, Adam Partridge
Director of photography: Adam Frisch
Production designer: Richard Campling
Editor: Matt Platts-Mills
Composers: James Edward Barker, Steve Moore

Casting: Lindsey Hayes Kroeger, Manuel Puro

Rated R, 93 minutes