On the surface, KNUCKLEBALL tackles a familiar premise: a kid isolated in a wintery landscape must defend his homestead against a would-be predator. Essentially presented an R-rated version of Home Alone (which, itself, was really just a kid-friendly version of Die Hard), director Michael Petersen brings us an exciting 90-minute thrill ride complete with edgy ‘cranky-old-man’ performances, deadly booby traps, and adult-on-kid violence.
Beyond the isolated, home invasion-like premise, KNUCKLEBALL has a lot going for it. Michael Ironside (Turbo Kid, Total Recall) anchors the film with a solid performance as Jacob, the protagonist’s grandfather and owner of a remote, Canadian estate. Dixon, played by Munro Chambers (Turbo Kid), is Jacob’s only neighbor for miles. But “The Kid” (Chambers’ character in Turbo Kid), Dixon, is all grown up, with a creepy, over-the-top performance as he terrorizes young Henry, played by Lucas Villacis (The Midnight Man, Channel Zero).
Admittedly, the performances begin to fall off outside of the three leads. However, Ironside handles his interactions with the young Villacis the way you would expect of a veteran actor. The relationship between grandfather and grandson feels as genuine as any in real life, and gives weight to the film when Henry must later fend off Dixon on his own.
As good as the Ironside interactions are, KNUCKLEBALL really picks up speed in the second half. As the premise suggests, circumstances place Henry at the mercy of Dixon. Henry’s rapid realization of Dixon’s ulterior motives lead to the most tense, explosive scene in the film. Petersen’s direction has the audience teetering on the edge as they’re unsure whether Henry will react in time to avoid falling victim to Dixon’s intentions.
The primary weakness in the film lies in the script. The dialogue is well-written and superbly delivered. However, it feels like less care was given to whether exposition was delivered naturally or whether subtexts were adequately and consistently communicated. In several key moments, characters simply blurt out stories from their past with no surrounding context and for no apparent reason. In addition, Dixon’s motivation appears to be deliberately kept in the subtext of the film. While this was likely intentional, several of the directorial choices throughout the film obscure that subtext to the point that different viewers may come away with an entirely different reading.
Granted, none of the above complaints significantly detracts from the overall enjoyment of the film. The moments of forced exposition are over just as suddenly as they arise. Further, the villain’s motivations simply aren’t as important as the tense experience of watching whether Henry will survive. The main complaint horror fans may have are in the traps set by Henry to defend his house. KNUCKLEBALL takes a far more realistic approach than a film like Home Alone. Unfortunately, Henry’s traps are far less imaginative and brutal than Kevin McAlister’s stair nails and blow torch. There’s probably a middle area where the writers could have dialed up Henry’s savagery, while still keeping the film grounded.
Overall, however, KNUCKLEBALL is a solid base hit, even if not a home run. The film made it’s Quebec premier at the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival.
Fantasia 2018: ‘Knuckleball’ Is A Solid Hit [Review]
Strong on dialogue and performances, while a tad weak on story. Realistic violence in an isolated, claustrophobic setting, and definitely worthy of a watch.