As a woman tries to rekindle her relationship with her daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton), she starts to believe that Chloe may be embroiled in a dangerous witch legend.
There’s nothing scary in Don’t Knock Twice unless you’re scared of doors or knocking, because there’s a lot of slow, ominous zooms in on doors and knocks that are supposed to send chills, because this witch KNOCKS on DOORS, everyone. Be scared. There’s a great scene where Chloe and her mother try to burn all the doors in their house as an attempt to put an end to the witch’s benevolence; it makes very little sense, because it is never suggested that the doors are evil and, if anything, wouldn’t removing the doors make the witch’s job a little easier? Who knows? By the time it ends, Don’t Knock Twice has become such a mess of ideas and explanations, it is impossible to decipher what is actually going on. The best thing you can do is go along for the ride, nod at all the right moments and jump when you’re told, because otherwise, the imperfections lurking within Don’t Knock Twice become painfully obvious and that’s when it becomes unconvincing and, eventually, too ridiculous to enjoy.
Of course, this film’s apparent true concern is with the strained mother-daughter relationship. The witchy haunting is a mere extension of their problems and a manifestation of the otherwise invisible presence that stands between their ability to unite. This familial bond can only be repaired if the witch’s bond to Chloe is tethered, forcing the two to come together if they want to end their supernatural woes. As this is an idea that is explored in countless horror films; this small family’s plight is too familiar to truly care about. If you can imagine the mother’s desperation from Poltergeist, mixed with the familial threat felt in The Exorcist and scares delivered in the same reign as The Ring or Ringu, you’ll be well on the way to understanding this film’s key inspirations.
The family is frequently at the core of haunted houses and ghostly malevolence, so Don’t Knock Twice should have, at least, tried to bring something new to the table. Instead, it borrows elements from greater horror films to disguise its own lack of creativity, rinsing and repeating ideas that we have seen infinite times previously. Perhaps Don’t Knock Twice would have been more successful working as a homage to these horror stories; adopting a sense of self-awareness and wit to craft itself as a love letter to horror, rather than a tale of failed inventiveness. However, there is an obsession with seriousness here that further distances us from its story, pushing us away to have no intention of knocking on this film’s door once, let alone twice.
If you want us to take your film seriously, then the rules for your world need to be set out in stone. The rules of this witch’s legend are convoluted and silly; one person is killed the night they knock on her door twice, but Chloe is stalked and taunted for days before any real attempt is made on her life. The film relies a lot on suspension of disbelief with its inability to stick to its own conceptions, but this is not an entry in the Fast and Furious franchise, this is an apparently serious examination of families and the problems that lurk within their relationships. The film’s blend of spectacle and sincerity is never quite balanced, making it almost impossible to appreciate on a surface level or as one that goes a little deeper. Don’t Knock Twice becomes a mess in every way; a victim of its own crisis of identity.
A tighter story and a simpler chain of events would have been beneficial, rather than the nonsensical wild goose chase that we are taken on. Katee Sackhoff and Lucy Boynton are strong leads that carry the film and all its problematic puzzles; without them this would have become another forgettable supernatural scare-fest in the pit of poor modern horror. Their characters are, again, no one special and carry familiar burdens we’ve seen carried in other stories about ex-drug abusers, impossible relationships and broken homes. There is no opportunity for them to craft something new with these given personalities, because Don’t Knock Twice is an overall paint-by-numbers endeavour that chooses needless plot complications over a story that could have been interesting and character-driven. They do their best with what they’re given as taps turn on and lights turn off, but you can’t escape the feeling that they’re better than this.
There are a lot of trippy visuals for the audience to enjoy that bear resemblance to J-horror’s obsessions with gangly women and water manipulation. There are supposedly spectacular moments of levitation, scenes of suspense where Jess must cling to Chloe for dear life and the eventual journey into the demon’s abode that wishes it could garner the same level of fear as Hellraiser’s striking hell. The film’s grey-blue colour palette drenches Don’t Knock Twice in a predictable other-worldly air and works as another example of this film’s lack of difference which is further emphasised with its It Follows-esque soundtrack. Nothing here is unique and even the film’s mind-boggling finale that almost turns the film into something else entirely can’t save Don’t Knock Twice from its innate predictability.
Don’t Knock Twice is a tiresome experience filled with so many twists and turns and desperations to be different, despite its almost entirely borrowed identity. A handful of impressive scares and a strong pair in Boynton and Sackhoff can’t save this from being just another poor, instantly forgettable and inexcusably confusing supernatural yarn.
Don’t Knock Twice is in cinemas and on demand 31 March and on DVD 3 April
Words: Jessy Williams (@JessyCritical)