Director Caradog W. James latest juggles an eclectic mix of multiple plot threads but focuses primarily on two at the core of the narrative; an urban legend ghost story and a family drama between an estranged daughter and mother. The two threads are loosely tied together when the troubled daughter becomes the target of the demonic witch behind the urban legend, and her mother must do whatever she can to protect her.
Katee Sackhoff and Lucy Boynton deliver compelling performances as Jess and Chloe, the estranged pair at the center. Jess gave up Chloe to the state nine years ago and successfully rebuilt her life as a sculptor. She suffers severe guilt and wants to repair the broken relationship with her daughter, whereas Chloe holds on to the bitter resentment of abandonment and wants nothing to do with Jess. Until Chloe awakens the witch by knocking twice on the witch’s door and has nowhere else to turn but Jess. It’s a story that the horror genre has explored before; how far will a mother go to save her child? Despite the leading ladies’ performances, there’s not much here that hasn’t already been seen before and not a lot of depth either.
There’s an odd kitchen sink approach to the witch’s haunting. Tried and true ghost story tropes like a sink full of blood, vivid nightmares, Ring-like ghost crawls, and even a computer monitor revealed death. It bounces around from potential jump scare moment to jump scare moment sandwiched between mother/daughter bonding without really fleshing in much about the curse, save for a clunky scene of exposition. Javier Botet ([REC], The Conjuring 2) is always a reliable casting choice in horror, and his brief appearances as this witch is a nice touch. However, because the scares are well trodden repeats, the witch is often rendered ineffective.
On a conceptual level, there’s a lot here narratively that should work. A unique, Eastern European urban legend is ripe for exploration and innovative scares, and despite the familiar narrative, family drama makes for fantastic emotional centers in horror. From the film’s outset, though, the pace moves at warp speed, bouncing around like a pinball without ever slowing down enough to delve into any particular plot thread enough to retain interest. The strained relationship between Jess and Chloe is given the most attention, but there’s not much resolution there save for the superficial band-aid of a demonic curse. It doesn’t help matters that random plot threads involving a cold case, poorly handled misdirects, and an unearned plot twist feel out of place in a narrative already struggling to tie its opposing threads together.
The end result is a fast paced ghost story that offers plenty of scares with performances that try their best despite thin characters. There’s enough here to be entertained by, though the urban legend itself is mostly squandered. Too much is crammed in without the running time or the finesse to deliver a cohesive story, though it’s not for lack of trying. It’s a fun flick for those in need of something simple or not well versed in horror. But seasoned veterans of the genre may find themselves bored.
Don’t Knock Twice will be available on VOD and select theaters on February 3, 2017.
Don’t Knock Twice [Review]