The film entails American sculptor Jess (Katee Sackhoff), reuniting with her teenage daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton) who’s living in a foster home. Jess invites Chloe to come live with her but distraught at her mother’s abandonment, the latter refuses. That night Chloe and her boyfriend Danny visit the abandoned home of Mary Aminov, a woman in the neighbourhood who was accused of witchcraft. The legend says that if you knock twice on her door, Mary will come and get you. So, naturally Danny and Chloe dare each other to knock on the door. Soon after Chloe discovers the curse is real when her other half disappears, resulting in nightmares and disturbing illusions that only she can see. Desperate to escape the foster home, she takes up the offer to stay with Jess, but the curse of the “Baba Yaga” follows her, forcing mother and daughter to work together to solve the dark mystery of Mary Aminov.
Don’t Knock Twice has to be commended for it’s bold choice to use folklore and urban legends – there’s something quite refreshing about taking horror back to the traditional notion of encountering the ‘monsters of your nightmares’. Not many horrors brave the fantasy genre these days, particularly in this current trend of perverting modern culture anxieties, displayed in the likes of The Purge franchise. The problem is Don’t Knock Twice doesn’t commit to its genre wholeheartedly. It fails to establish it’s own tone and visual style, instead taking all the clichés of horror and jumbling them into one film. As a result, it doesn’t possess any originality and falls, unintentionally, on the side of parody.
This fickle tone and unoriginality could be said of its scary sequences too, all of which are borrowed from better horror films like The Orphanage and Pan’s Labyrinth. Even taking a strange turn into Paranormal Activity, when we see Danny’s demise by the “Baba Yaga” on a computer screen through the static, fuzzy footage of a webcam chat. This not only detracts from the horror as you are no longer in the room with Danny to fully experience it, but also conflicts with the earlier scenes of the slow, ethereal and spiralling camerawork that builds up to this very moment.
A fundamental feature of horror is suspense – of which Don’t Knock Twice disappointing lacks. The scenes rely on a loud soundtrack and an overuse of jump scares that ultimately diminishes the little tension there is. However the lack of tension is mostly due to the clumsy writing. The audience may struggle to form a connection to the uninteresting characters on screen. Despite her strong performance in Sing Street, Boynton (and admittedly the rest of the cast) gives a good performance, as much as she can give to a role whose character arc the writers appear to have forgotten about halfway through the film. Towards the end of the picture Chloe is so sidelined as a character she barely has any lines and when she does it’s a mere cry for help. All hints of that rebellious girl are dropped as she becomes a victim, but worse she becomes an underused protagonist. Not even the mother-daughter relationship – the supposed beating heart of this story – is compelling enough to make you care for these cursed characters.
Whilst there are a variety of reasons this film falls apart – such as the conflicting tone, and the contrived and illogical plot and the undeveloped characters – by far expositional dialogue is the feature’s biggest flaw. Jess’ sculpture model Tira (Pooneh Hajimohammadi) in particular is laughable, serving as an encyclopaedia of supernatural exposition for Jess and Chloe. Writers Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler are mostly known for their work on children’s television shows Danger Mouse and Peter Rabbit, and whilst dabbling in a fantasy horror with 2015’s Howl, the children’s work is apparent in the story of Don’t Knock Twice. There’s an air of immaturity to the dialogue that spoon-feeds the audience; plot twists that can be seen from a mile off and pointless flashbacks to remind audiences of puzzle pieces that they’ve already pieced together. All of this gives the film a bad impression of believing it’s smarter than it actually is.
Don’t Knock Twice is a film for a very niche audience: lovers of B-movie horror. If you enjoy horror tropes, the basic thrills of loud sounds and senseless characters – this is the film for you. Expect anything more: character complexity, deep themes, suspense or originality, and you will be sorely disappointed.
Don’t Knock Twice is released on March 31st.