Remember “ding-dong-ditch” (or “knock, knock/zoom, zoom”, as we called it in my childhood neighborhood)? That harmless-yet-annoying game wherein young, bored rapscallions torment their neighbors by knocking on their door or ringing their doorbell and then hightailing it the hell out of there before the door opens? You might have played that game dozens upon dozens of times during the humid summer nights of your youth, but I bet you never stopped and thought, “Someone should make a movie based on this activity!”
But someone did! Caradog W. James’s Don’t Knock Twice uses the game/prank to set up a Grudge-like tale of wispy ghosts and traumatic past events. Yes, it is as silly as it sounds. But it’s not without a certain stylish charm.
Late one night, troubled youth Chloe (Lucy Boynton) and her boyfriend Danny (Jordan Bolger) decide to knock on the door of a run-down abandoned house by a busy freeway. The house has a storied past, with rumors that the occupant was a witch. What’s more, the witch may or may not have abducted a childhood friend of Chloe and Danny.
After Chloe and Danny knock on the door and scram, trouble begins to brew. Danny disappears, and Chloe finds herself experiencing terrifying visions — or perhaps they’re hauntings. Chloe’s supernatural assault forces her to flee back into the arms of her estranged mother, played by Katee Sackhoff. Sackhoff’s character is a recovering drug addict, and her substance abuse problems led to her giving Chloe up when she was still a child.
Don’t Knock Twice attempts to be both a jump-scare laden spook show and a tender tale of a mother and daughter learning to live with each other again, but it doesn’t much succeed at either. There’s plenty of creepy flourishes that director James brings to the proceedings, with some genuinely unnerving moments involving rail-thin specters slithering out from the darkness. But there’s literally nothing here that hasn’t been done in approximately ten thousand other horror films, and it gives the film a playbook vibe — as if the director is running through a checklist of cliches that must be added.
The saving grace of the film is Sackhoff, who brings a fragile bitterness to her character. One gets the sense that the film wants Chloe to be the main character, but it’s Sackhoff who deserves most of the attention. Moments where she attempts to heal scabbed-over emotional wounds resonate much more effectively than they are written thanks entirely to her performance.
It’s the script that isn’t doing Don’t Knock Twice any favors. The bulk of the characters are as one dimensional as can be, and there are huge exposition dumps that occur out of nowhere, such as when one of Sackhoff’s friends (Pooneh Hajimohammadi) begins rambling about curses and evil marks the minute she meets Chloe. Writers Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler keep piling more and more backstory and twists onto their tale in the third act, grinding the film to a halt in the process. You may or may not find the film’s final twist clever, but by then it’s too little too late. When it comes to Don’t Knock Twice, it’s probably best to not watch once.