Way back in the 1960s there was a game we played on the way home from school, where we would ring random strangers’ doorbells and run off hoping to leave the unlucky householder fuming on the doorstep. We called it ‘Knock Down Ginger’ and this childhood game is the tangled root of British horror film Don’t Knock Twice, the latest movie from director Caradog James (Little White Lies, 2006).
Don’t Knock Twice stars Katee Sackoff (Battlestar Galactica, 2004-2009; Oculus, 2013) as American sculptor Jess. Now a well-known artist, former wild child Jess is married to successful British businessman Ben (Richard Mylan) and living in a massive country house, complete with a chapel that Jess uses as a studio. The only thing left to complete her ideal world is a rapprochement with estranged daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton), who was taken into care nine years earlier.
Chloe isn’t so keen, but turns up on Jess’s doorstep after her boyfriend Danny (Jordan Bolger) is abducted by a mysterious force live on Skype. It turns out that the night before Danny and Chloe had visited a boarded up old house. Only it wasn’t any old house; this one belonged to an old lady known as Ginger (see where this is going?), who slit her own throat after being accused of abducting and murdering a child. Word on the street was that Ginger was a witch and knocking on her door summons a demon to drag the knocker to Hell. Naturally, it’s a dare two teenage kids can’t resist.
Can her mum’s country pile be a place of sanctuary for Chloe? Of course it can’t. Before long Ginger’s ghost is wandering about the landings and portals to hell are opening up behind doors. Having wanted Chloe back so hard, Jess won’t let Ginger have her without a fight. And that’s without the further interference from child protection services and law enforcement.
Don’t Knock Twice is a thoroughly entertaining slice of British horror. It has a certain nostalgic flavour, channeling 1950s and 1960s haunted house classics like Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961) or Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963). While the film eschews the middle class sensibilities and attitudes of this era for something stylistically grittier and contemporary, the ghostly effects have learnt a thing or two from Japanese or J-horror. Writers Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler, who were responsible for repackaging Howard Hawks’ western Rio Bravo (1959) as the ‘werewolves on a train’ shocker Howl (2015) have crafted a story here. The narrative of Don’t Knock Twice twists and turns to spray the unwary watcher with an abundance of red herrings, as Jess attempts save Chloe by unravelling the truth about Ginger’s origin.
Along for the ride are plenty of nicely set up and delivered shocks and jump scares. Practical effects, prosthetics and CGI have been combined with stunning art direction and cinematography, and then driven home with the exquisitely polished sound design and musical score. There is also a touch of wincingly effective body horror. It’s no lie to say that the critic sitting beside me in the screening room had his knuckles between his teeth for most of the film’s duration.
Sackoff, as you would expect, makes a pretty good fist of being an action hero, while Boynton successfully manages a fear-induced transition from resentful rebellion to an emotional dependency upon, and new-found respect for, her mother. There are also nice performances from Nick Moran as a hard-bitten copper and Iranian born Pooneh Hajimohammadi as Jess’s psychic artist model, Tira.
Don’t Knock Twice is a genuinely scary and atmospheric film that left me wanting to see more. The film will be released theatrically in the UK on 31 March 2017, and is available on DVD from 3 April 2017.