Friday, February 03, 2017

Don’t Knock Twice: Getting Witchy in Wales

What’s Baba Yaga doing in Wales? Evil, that’s what—assuming it really is Baba Yaga. Some say she is just a malevolent spirit with a huge grudge. Either way, she is extremely pissed off in Caradog James’ Don’t Knock Twice (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Chloe and her kind of boyfriend Danny are convinced the spirit of accused child-murderer Mary Aminov remains enthralled to its demon string-puller. If you knock twice at the door of her abandoned cottage, you will wake both servant and master. Of course, they do that very thing, for reasons we are at a loss to explain. Why not invoke Candyman and Bye Bye Man while they’re at it?

Evidently, Danny is a “Redshirt” boyfriend, because he is not around for long. Thinking she is clever, Chloe arranges a trial residency with Jess, her formerly troubled birth-mother, who has recently tried to regain custody. After cleaning up, Jess and her macabre sculptures were embraced by the art world, so she could afford a vintage country manor. Marrying a banker like Ben did not hurt either. Regardless, Aminov or Baba Yaga finds her there just the same.

Jess’s exotic model Tira takes one look at the agitated Chloe and promptly pulls the rip cord.  She is “sensitive” to certain phenomena and wants no part of the chaos to come. Unfortunately, local copper Det. Boardman isn’t very reassuring either. Further complicating matters, Jess and Chloe start to get conflicting counsel regarding just what the dealio is with Aminov. Sadly, the accumulated stress does little to facilitate their reconciliation.

Although it is not perfect, Knock still represents a big step up from James’ previous film, the didactic sf fable, The Machine. It starts conventionally enough, but the third act is rather deviously clever. Arguably, it is that rare horror film that somehow picks up steam as it goes along and redeems itself (if not necessarily its characters) in the end.

Katee “Battlestar” Sackhoff is pretty compelling as Jess, the barely sober mess. Twentysomething Lucy Boynton still makes a credibly petulant teenager, which is a good thing in this context. However, Iranian Pooneh Hajimohammadi should be the breakout genre star to come out of Knock, based on her weirdly alluring turn as Tira. She just makes the camera freeze in its tracks.

Arguably, this isn’t such a bad week for horror. Neither Knock or Eloise are likely be hailed as underappreciated classics years from now, but both films stick with it, turning out considerably better than one might expect. Recommended for horror fans out for a respectable fix, Don’t Knock Twice opens tonight (2/3) in New York, at the IFC Center.