As Lucy Boynton retreats shrieking from the cursed hands of Don’t Knock Twice’s supernatural antagonist the Baba Yaga, you feel very much that the shambling and lacklustre din splashed across the screen has worked itself into an astute visual summary of the film. Grasping and ambling along without any appreciable sense of drive and incapable of providing any sort of jolt, the movie, like it’s Slavic villain, could do with a makeover, a bit more drive and an injection of vitality.
Creeping a path already well trodden in superior horror movies such as Candyman, When a Stranger Calls and even the relatively enjoyable Loveless Zoritsa, Don’t Knock Twicet attempts to wring sense and dread out of the rich world of the urban legend with nods to Eastern European folklore.
Watching the end result is strangely reminiscent of Stuart Rosenberg’s preposterously overrated Amityville Horror, in that it appears to be the product of greater works that have gone before it. Don’t Knock Twice is, for the most part, competently presented, but it feels like an inconsistent jumble of bits from better movies, of moments that you have seen done before and done with more panache.
Boynton’s somewhat sullen teen Chloe rekindles her relationship with her estranged, formerly drug-addicted mother (Katee Sackhoff) just in time to incur the wrath of a demonic monster residing in the ruins of a roadside house known locally as the home of a witch. Happy to tempt fate, and with the nonchalant air of a child blithely shouting “Biggie Smalls” five times at the bathroom mirror, Chloe knocks twice upon the witch’s door and awakens the Baba Yaga inside. Shortly afterwards, her friend is attacked and killed by the monster while Skyping and, with the remorseful air of a man who has shouted “Sean Combs” five times at his own reflection, realises the whole urban myth thing may have had some truth to it. Naturally, she escapes to her mother’s countryside mansion and art studio to escape a grisly fate and succeeds in dragging Sackhoff’s contrite artist into the ordeal.
Just as Chloe forgets the first rule of not tempting fate, so Director Caradog W. James forgets the first rule of horror movie making: that it must, at the very least, be somewhat scary. A hat must be ever so slightly tipped to the man in acknowledgement that he does attempt to impart a sense of dread into his story rather than relying on meagre jump scares, but the mood of the piece feels awkward and stilted, and never gruelling or punishing enough. Moments of brief enjoyment shuffle along whenever the Baba Yaga does, but glimpses of cleverness – such as a false awakening or a shadowy arm emerging from a sink – are accompanied by a vague feeling of having seen something similar at another time and in another place.
A last gasp narrative revelation keeps the plot, which is relatively heavy on police procedural, from being something of a contrivance. But for a significant time it seems as if all logic has been jettisoned in favour of a Pan’s Labyrinth-inspired adaptation of Prime Suspect that struggles to find its own voice.
Dir: Caradog W. James
Scr: Mark Huckerby, Nick Ostler
Cast: Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton, Nick Moran
Prd: Seymour Films, Red & Black Films
Music: James Edward Barker, Steve Moore
Runtime: 93 mins
Don’t Knock Twice is in cinemas and on demand 31st March 2017.