Knocking follows the story of Molly (Cecilia Milocco), a woman who is returning to the outside world after being discharged from a psychiatric hospital after she was admitted due to her involvement in a past traumatic event. She moves into an apartment complex and is starting to experience things that she has not come into contact in a while; little things like the touch of fruit. Her neighbours and the super are welcoming and the future seems to be looking rather bright for Molly.
One night during her sleep, she is awoken by sounds of knocking from her ceiling. Being the curious type, she investigates where the sound is coming from but the tenants say that they do not hear anything. It sounds like a one-off situation, but the next few nights she continues hearing that exact knocking. She questions the tenants again but they show nothing but indifference. But as she digs deeper, she becomes convinced that the sound may be a call for help. Will anyone believe her? Are the noises all in her head? Who do they not believe her?
The premise of the horror film Knocking is an ingeniously simple one; ripe with potential for startling tension, social commentary and acting opportunities. It is the feature-length narrative debut for Frida Kempff, who has made her mettle in award-winning short films and documentaries. Her focus on telling stories of verisimilitude through a genre lens propels Knocking into becoming an engaging nuts-and-bolts thriller.
Given a low budget and a limited schedule, the film is remarkably well-made on a technical level. The cinematography by DOP Hannes Krantz brings a sense of style that is both voyeuristic (some of the shots peer over Molly) and claustrophobic (some of the shots are eerily close to her face); which is very befitting of its limited settings (most of it is set in the apartment complex) and in showcasing the mindset of Molly as she becomes more and more obsessed (the camera being rigged on Milocco herself). What is even more impressive is that the camera rigs were made from scratch, with stuff made from Krantz’s basement.
The taut editing by Erika Gonzales keeps the storytelling concise; the film only runs for 78 minutes! But what Gonzales does really well is that she manages to keep the suspense in a gradual escalation, which makes the pay-off in the third act powerful.
Kempff and her screenwriter Emma Broström bring plentiful true-to-life factors into the narrative such as gender politics (how men look down on Molly due to her gender), perceptions on mental illness (how people disbelieve Molly due to her history) and it provides insight for the audience to care and sympathize for Molly. However, the inclusions never feel blatant nor sanctimonious; but they are made implicitly through action and character.
But what really carries the film is Milocco’s performance. She manages to convey the frustration, the vulnerability and the strength of Molly as she tries everything in her power to rescue what she believes to be a kidnapped victim. She also manages to instil life into her character like a sense of elation, grief and wonder; especially in the early scenes where Molly discovers the simple pleasures (eg. listening to classical music or eating fruit) of the outside world she had before her admittance.
The film does have its flaws when it comes down to its plot. The contrivances can be a bit hard to swallow (like Molly’s phone calls to her doctor) and the ending can be quite underwhelming for some due to expectations, even if the denouement fits the scope of the film. The film’s examination on its serious themes mentioned above may feel skin-deep for some and again, it comes down to expectations. In terms of genre cinema, the implicit approach may come off as the best route to take but in terms of pure drama, a more researched approach would be more appropriate. The film tries to do both, but Kempff gives off the impression that she prefers the implicit approach.
Overall, Knocking is a taut psychological thriller that manages to mesh social commentary around perceptions on women and mental illness with stellar genre lo-fi filmmaking led by a genuinely deep performance by Cecilia Milocco.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Knocking is screening as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which is being presented virtually between January 28th and February 3rd, 2021. For more information head to the official Sundance page.
Image Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Photo by Hannes Krantz.