Shock value is only half of the equation. It's easy to show someone something shocking and get their attention, but to make it stick in the mind, there has to be another half, something that activates the viewer's imagination. All too often, modern horror movies only have the first half, the shocking half, and they figure either the audacity of going "there" (wherever "there" is), or maybe their dedication in making whatever this horrible, distressing thing is accurate to real life, will be enough to creating a lasting impact (see Edward Lee's Header for an example -- or better yet, don't).
The tragedy of Someone's Knocking At the Door is not that it doesn't have that other half. The film, mostly the brainchild of co-writer/director Chad Ferrin, is a graphic, twitchy trip through a series of shocking, grotesque deaths, staged at a fever pitch. It's so over-the-top and relentless, it sticks in the viewer's imagination through sheer persistence, piling on so much that the film eclipses shock value near the beginning and just keeps on stacking. No, the problem is that the whole production is stocked with a bunch of wholly unlikable characters that the audience has to suffer through whenever the film takes a brief break from the madness to try and tell a story or develop arcs for our supposed protagonists.
After a weird title sequence consisting mostly of stock footage, we open, as advertised, by a knock on the door of Ray (Jordan Lawson), a medical student living in the dorms of some anonymous college campus. What follows establishes Ferrin's style of using shock (the surprise appearance of a fully naked woman) to misdirect the audience before really going all-out (a brutal rape/murder). The next day, Ray's friends Justin (Noah Segan), Meg (Andrea Rueda), Sebastian (Jon Budinoff), Annie (Silvia Spross), and Joe (Ricardo Gray) theorize about the crime, but Justin in particular is plagued with visions of Ray, who screams "You!" whenever Justin asks who the murderer was. After a fracas at the funeral, a local cop (Timothy Muskatell) pulls the group in for questioning, and a supernatural story starts to unravel, one in which a pair of murders from the 1970s (Ezra Buzzington and Elina Madison) have come back to wreak vengeance on modern victims.
If you have a sensitivity to rape, be aware, the male-on-male punishment Ferrin enacts upon some victims is pretty intense, splattering the line between wrong and ridiculous. There are also things that would be hard to explain even if I had no qualms about spoiling the movie (let's just say you've never seen a vagina do some of the things a vagina does here). That's all well and good, but even at a scant hour and fifteen minutes before the credits roll, the film drags intesely during the funeral (Budinoff's character is particularly annoying) and the following interrogation scenes. Ferrin spices much of the movie up with bits of directorial flair, but when it comes to the Justin's visions, many of these tics are more annoying than compelling, with Ferrin allowing them to drag on and on whenever the character has an episode. It should also be noted that Ferrin has a good sense of matching songs to visuals, particularly the last cue in the movie.
Ultimately, the film arrives at a conclusion that gets increasingly obvious as the film goes along, one that fails to cap things in a satisfying way. If Someone's Knocking At the Door had one more element, some twist or turn that revved things back up to full speed prior to the credits rolling, I think it'd be worthy of a recommendation just on the basis of how insane it is, and for all the moments when Ferrin shows his skill behind the camera. Unfortunately, amidst all the raunchy, bloody insanity, there's nobody here to root for, and the plot is left haphazardly twisting in the wind while Ferrin focuses on the movie's bigger moments. Someone's Knocking at the Door transcends shock value: I will remember several scenes in the film, and the sense of unease they inspired, for some time, but I'm not sure I'll remember what the movie was about.
The cover art for Someone's Knocking At the Door is loud and gritty, with black censoring bars all over the place, loud quotes, and a complete soak from front to back in a bright red. Mine came in a fairly cheap case that couldn't withstand the forces of a small box and the United States Postal Service, and there was no insert.
Note: Just like Vicious Circle's DVD for Sympathy, clicking on the main menu selections will play a clip before taking you to the menu, clips that might be considered spoilers. There is only one audio track and no subtitles, so I don't think it should be an issue, but here's a heads up, just in case.
The Video, and Audio
Someone's Knocking At the Door has a stylized, slightly amped-up look to it, and this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation recreates it beautifully. Other than some mosquito noise during dark scenes (clearly from production, and not the disc), this is a pretty top-notch transfer, with eye-popping colors, perfect clarity, and a solid amount of fine detail. No complaints.
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound is both good, in that it replicates Ferrin's intent accurately, and bad, in that Ferrin's intent is often to give the viewer a headache. Crackles, screeches, and pops will blare through your surround sound system whenever Justin has tweaky episode, which is often. The surrounds are actually utilized fairly well, although the film will devolve into an aural seizure too often to really feel immersed. No subtitles or captions are provided on the disc.
"Behind the Scenes" (49:57) turns out to be a very in-depth, fly-on-the-wall look at making the movie. Pretty much everyone involved pops up on camera for a candid comment or two. The narration-free material is pretty interesting, and I like a long documentary, but the piece probably could've been more satisfying at 30 or even 25 minutes. As a side note, the audio seemed desynched during a portion of the featurette, but I'm guessing that was an odd glitch on behalf of my DVD player, not the disc.
Four deleted scenes (3:52) include a minor snip of Justin arriving at the party, two extended nude scenes (joy), and a short capper that might've made for a better ending. "Taldon Drug Test Subject #1" (3:01) is a projected clip seen in the film, with no audio. A half-creepy, half-goofy music video (4:30) for "Say It" by Andrew Lynch and directed by Segan (both identified on the packaging, but not the menu) closes out the video extras.
Under the Setup menu, two audio commentaries are also available. The first has Noah Segan, the other Timothy Muskatell, and both have writer/director Chad Ferrin. Segan is also a producer on the film, so the conversation takes on as much of a director/producer feel as it does director/actor, whereas on the other track, Muskatell asks questions while Ferrin dominates. Both tracks are reasonably free of dead spots and there isn't too much overlap, but neither conversation quite has the spark I'd hope for in an audio commentary.
The disc opens with trailers for Sympathy, Run Bitch Run!, and Hanger play when you put in the disc. Three original trailers for Someone's Knocking At the Door are also included, as well as two bonus trailers for a couple of other films by Ferrin. The automatic trailers are also accessible from the special features.
Rent it, if you're a fan of graphic (and I mean really graphic) horror. It's not great, but it's an interesting and memorable misfire, and co-writer/director Chad Ferrin has the talent to make something bigger and better next time he gets behind the camera.
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