Don’t Knock Twice – Film Review

Coco Chanel once advised that before leaving the house you should remove one thing. The point being that less is more and an overabundance of accessories can spoil an underlying aesthetic. In cinematic terms Don’t Knock Twice takes a simple creepy premise and drenches it in weird plot twists and the two solid central performances are overshadowed by an amateurish supporting cast.

Don’t Knock Twice follows two plot strands; one surrounding teen Chloe (Lucy Boynton) who knocks twice on a door that will apparently summon a witch if knocked on twice and the inevitable fallout from that decision, and a second following Chloe as she tries to reconnect with her estranged mother Jess (Katee Sackhoff). The two storylines intertwine and their relationship is tested by a battle against supernatural forces but the two strands don’t play off each other nicely. This isn’t The Babadook where the monster is a manifestation of the familial issues in the rest of the film.

Sackhoff and Boynton give the film’s only two convincing performances as two damaged souls hesitantly reunited while all hell breaks loose. There’s an decent movie hidden in here somewhere but they are hugely let down by their fellow actors who are in turn given little to work with. One character in particular was often being laughed at by the audience as a result of the bizarre behaviour she was forced to portray. In a horror you need to be able to put yourself into the character’s position and that’s hard when people aren’t behaving like any human you’ve ever met.

That’s not to say that Don’t Knock Twice isn’t effective at the scares though. The witch itself is fantastically realised and there were moments of real terror in the film. One fellow audience member embarrassed himself with the height at which he jumped from his seat, and for once that man wasn’t me. Sadly, as I’ve mentioned, by the end of the film those scares have been diluted by other less successful elements, and a final act that was needlessly complicated and inserted a twist where none was needed.

If Coco Chanel were here I’m sure she would advise taking off the unnecessary twist and the bulk of the weaker supporting players to reveal the well fitted, emotionally fulfilling and delightfully scary horror film about mother-daughter relationships underneath.

Won’t watch twice.

Everybody Wants Some!! Sing Street – Film Review(s)

The Boys

Last week I inadvertently scheduled myself a thematic weekend of cinema by seeing Everybody Wants Some!! and Sing Street on consecutive days. The films are quite different but I can’t find a way to talk about one without bringing up the other and so I have decided to review them both completely separately and intertwined. Excuse me while I try to impress you.

In Autumn 2014 Richard Linklater returned to a key period in his own history as he recreated early eighties Texas and filmed Everybody Wants Some!! in which Jake (Blake Jenner) starts at a new college and joins his baseball teammates in pursuit of girls. For Linklater the film is not just a return to his adolescence but marks a continuation of the theme of childhood and adulthood running through his earlier work Dazed and Confused and more recently Boyhood.

In Autumn 2014 John Carney returned to a key period in his own history as he recreated early eighties Dublin and filmed Sing Street in which Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) starts at a new school and leads his reluctant bandmates in pursuit of a girl. For Carney the film is not just a return to his adolescence but marks a continuation of the theme of music and romance running through his earlier work Once and more recently Begin Again.

In Everybody Wants Some!! we find ourselves immersed in the world of a tribe unfamiliar to myself: the jocks. We follow the jocks from party to party as they clash with one another and change their appearance to better match the style of the girls they are pursuing. Music and costume are equally important in this film and the fluctuation of each goes hand in hand. As the boys move from pursuing girls in a country club to chasing girls in a grunge club their outfits switch to suit the soundtrack they will be grinding to. It is no surprise that the film’s soundtrack will be getting a cassette release alongside the more traditional CD.

In Sing Street we find ourselves immersed in the world of a tribe familiar to myself: the nerds. We follow the nerds from genre to genre as they sing with one another and change their appearance to better match the style of the music they are pursuing. Music and costume are equally important in this film and the fluctuation of each goes hand in hand. As the boys move from imitating the style of Duran Duran to writing music like The Cure their outfits switch to suit the soundtrack they will be singing to. It is no surprise that the film’s soundtrack will be getting a vinyl release alongside the more traditional CD.

The Girls

As well as attempting to be authentic to the era in which it is set Everybody Wants Some!! also echos what we have come to expect from seeing the time period and genre portrayed through cinema. The story of the young college student, played incongruously by a man in his twenties, pursuing sex in sun drenched America is one we know well and this film easily blends in amongst its siblings shot over the past thirty years. This cinematic authenticity helps make the film and its characters feel relatable even if you haven’t ever been a jock or stepped foot on American soil, let alone lived through the eighties.

As well as attempting to be authentic to the era in which it is set Sing Street also echos what we have come to expect from seeing the time period and genre portrayed through cinema. The story of the young school student, played accurately by a boy in his teens, pursuing escape in grey and drizzly UK & Ireland is one we know well and this film easily blends in amongst its siblings shot over the past thirty years. This cinematic authenticity helps make the film and its characters feel relatable even if you haven’t ever been a musician or stepped foot on Irish soil, let alone lived through the eighties.

At the film’s core is a story of lust and the pursuit of many women. Aside from his love for all women the apple of our protagonist’s eye is Beverly (Zoey Deutch); a performing arts student who catches Jake’s eye at the start of the film. Despite possibly (I’d need to double-check) passing the Bechdel test the film spends no amount of time fleshing out its female characters. Beverly is a two-dimensional character of whom we learn very little and probably isn’t even developed enough to earn the title of Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Beverly is primarily treated as something to be won and I wasn’t convinced that our protagonist deserved to “win” her.

At the film’s core is a story of love and the pursuit of stardom. Aside from his love for songwriting the apple of our protagonist’s eye is Raphina (Lucy Boynton); an aspiring model who catches Conor’s eye at the start of the film. Despite possibly (I’d need to double-check) not passing the Bechdel test the film spends a good amount of time fleshing out its female characters. Raphina is a three-dimensional character of whom we learn a lot and the film slowly reveals enough for her to ditch the title of Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Raphina is treated as a character in her own right and any romance feels authentic and earned.

Overall the film is a success within the familiar framework it is working and will likely be enjoyed by fans of the genre or the director’s work that it follows on from. The soundtrack will be what sticks with you the most once you’ve stepped back out into the real world and will run through your head on your journey home. I had fun.

Both films are on release in the UK now.