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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Don't Knock Twice (Blu-ray)
Don't Knock Twice (Blu-ray)
IFC Films // R // June 16, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted July 6, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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The Film:

Apparently, I'm a vigorous door-knocker, because it's tough for me to work out a scenario where I'd have the restraint to only knock twice on someone's door. Three or four times, sure, and certainly five if a quicker response seems necessary … but twice? It seems so calculated and brief. Yet, practically everybody tends to rap on doors exactly that many times in Don't Knock Twice, a British supernatural thriller from Caradog James, regardless of whether they're using a heavy knocker or if they're doing it by hand. Getting on this atmospheric flick for the way people knock on doors might seem like a nitpicky gripe, but it's a testament both to the forced, cliched design of the horror and the ineffectiveness of the mysteries contained within. Folklore, mother-daughter turmoil, and a strung-out performance from Katee Sackhoff come across as stock elements slapped together and molded into a banal, overly identifiable supernatural tale, triggering déjà vu as soon as one arrives at its doorstep.

Sackhoff plays Jess, a successful sculptor -- and wife to an even more successful businessman -- whose past with drug abuse led to her losing custody of her child, Chloe (Lucy Boynton). Nearly a decade has passed since then, and now Jess strives to regain custody from the state, so her daughter might move into their enormous house secluded from the urban environment. Chloe is, naturally, hesitant, but that changes shortly after the disappearance of one of her close friends. This happened, seemingly, in response to them both visiting the residence of a local person suspected of being a witch: a woman with unsolved accusations penned against her who, according to urban legend, will come to hunt down anyone who knocks twice upon her door. Fearful, Chloe seeks refuge with her mother; whether the distance will have an impact on the curse, and whether the mother and daughter will reconcile their differences, gradually takes shape through their labored interactions.

While Don't Knock Twice received a wide theatrical release in 2017, it actually hit smaller festival venues in the fall of 2016, just a few short months after the arrival of Lights Out, the successful feature-length "adaptation" of a spooky three-minute short film. This bears mentioning because several similarities, both thematic and plot-centric, can be spotted in their premises: child custody conflicts, said child hiding from a supernatural curse in the house of a family member who once abandoned them, and the ways in which the monstrous antagonist travels -- and hits obstacles -- in getting to its target. Beyond those textual parallels, the two films also simply feel similar in tone and objective, lurking in the shadows while family issues are hashed out between paranormal attacks and suspiciousness toward whether the kids are distorting reality around them. Perhaps it's a reflection of the symptoms of frequently-used tropes, or perhaps it's yet another classic case of cinematic dumb luck that they're similar, but Don't Knock Twice immediately feels like a retread and never shakes that off.

It doesn't help that the mother-daughter drama in Don't Knock Twice lacks effectiveness, and that's mainly because of murky characterization and the stiff chemistry between Katee Sackhoff and Lucy Boynton. Sackhoff evokes a similar wild-eyed presence to her character Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, only without the sassy charisma and determination, coming across as an unstable figure instead of someone whose instability has been controlled enough to entrust with her daughter. Working with unspecific, rote dialogue about the complications of parenting while dealing with addiction and/or sickness, the interactions shared between Sackhoff's mother and Boynton's impersonal turn as her semi-rebellious daughter result in vapid padding-out between mild ebbs and flows of eeriness. Ideally, this push-and-pull between family members reconciling a traumatic past would enhance the suspense by deepening concerns for their well-being and progress, but Caradog James struggles to make that happen with these actresses, assuming teary eyes and raised voices are enough.

While unsatisfactory, these aren't the main issues with Don't Knock Twice, the ones rooted in how well it functions as, y'know, a horror film. Caradog James lends some indie polish to the design, but he can't keep it from being a nonsensical, predictable paranormal exercise that doesn't cross the threshold between creepiness and scariness enough considering its dramatic endeavors come to naught. Using established folklore provides an inspired angle to the events, but hackneyed visual tricks -- overbearing red lights; cascading lamps going dark down a hallway; the face of a dead body changing to that of the person looking at it -- and the disquieting, yet mundane lankiness of the witch herself distract from those marginal hints at something more captivating. This only grows messier when the moving parts of this curse kick into gear, culminating in surrealism, misdirection, and an implausible amount of double-knock trickery that stumbles over its own internal logic. Once it approaches yet another of those trendy, obscurely bleak outcomes, you'll really wish Chloe simply hadn't knocked in the first place.


Video and Audio:

Don't Knock Twice works with shadows and low-saturation palette choices, save for a few volatile bursts of red and yellow at strategic points throughout the film, which could result in uniquely appealing stylization with the right perspective. The 2.35:1-framed, 1080p AVC transfer from IFC/Shout aptly captures the overcast expanses around Jess's house and the heavy textures comprising the witch's house, but a large majority of the film occurs indoors, either in confined rooms or within an art studio. There's a washed-out haziness about the image that mildly accentuates the ambience of the film, but it also reflects upon mediocre contrast balance, a concern that's made more complicated upon the appearance of darker-than-average shadows. Noise can be an issue as well, leaning slightly bright and bluish in hue at a few spots. Aside from that, skin tones are largely responsive to the visual tempo, shades of sculpting clay and stone are nuanced, and a handful of details -- hair strands, necklaces, slathered clay -- are sharp enough.

Luckily, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track rings loud and clear with its often complex atmosphere, hinged on assertive natural sound elements, a few electronic distortions, and the occasionally eerie ‘80s-infused scoring. Elements such as a whirring sawblade, drills unscrewing hardware, and a raging bonfire project strong, clear effects that command the surround stage; certain effects are downright aggressive, never skimping on surround engagement. The music sprawls across the entire stage too, whether it's the traditional horror-fueled scoring or the slightly nostalgic twang of electronic tunes, though it can, at times, become too overbearing and intrude on subtler sound touches. There aren't a lot of opportunities for the sound design to engage lower-end heft, but the few chances it takes -- jump scares, mostly -- are vigorous with bass response, yet remain tight and punchy. Most importantly, elevated voices and whispers alike are clear and understandable. It's a solid horror-movie track, indeed.


Special Features:

A Behind Closed Doors: Inside Don't Knock Twice (13:30. 16x9 HD) featurette stands as the sole extra here, but it hits on strong notes in its relatively brief runtime. Interviews with Caradog James, Katee Sackhoff, the writers and the crew are dispersed between clips from the film and a trove of behind-the-scenes photography. They quickly touch upon the inspirations and craftsmanship behind the project: the urban legends, the character depth, the precise casting, the creation of the practical rendering of the witch herself, and the very restrained visual effects at work. Obviously, with the briefness of the featurette, the depth of each topic can't go much further than the surface, but it's sharp, insightful, and elaborative for what it sets out to accomplish.

IFC/Shout have also included a Trailer (1:43, 16x9 HD).


Final Thoughts:

Don't Knock Twice boasts an intriguing combination of witches, folklore, curses, gothic atmosphere, and parental drama that probably sounds right up the alley of genre fans, especially those looking for something in the vein of Lights Out, Mama, or even The Ring. A desire to tap into that similarly atmospheric sort of horror film weighs down this directorial effort from Caradog James, though, who struggles to evoke palpable terror or anything beyond surface-level character interactions in his slightly creepy, intermittently absurd, and entirely recognizable tale. As a mother and daughter evade a curse marked on the daughter for knocking twice on an old witch's door, mystery and ominousness spread into the film, but they're handled in such a familiar fashion that they lack impact … and the mother-daughter drama isn't dramatically potent enough to counterbalance that. Top that off with the fact that Don't Knock Twice, frankly, isn't very scary, and it leaves one scrambling for a reason to see it. A rental might be in order for those desperate for something new in the genre, but most will be better off if they Skip It.



Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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