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{Fantastic Fest 2021} Knocking Review- Stylish Swedish Thriller Is Unfortunately Muted

Knocking is the kind of movie that gets under your skin. Between the sickly colored frames and the strange angles, nothing is soothing. That’s true even before things start literally going bump in the night, and the day and everything in between. Knocking may begin on a sunny, peaceful day, but it quickly ditches the sunlight for murky shadows.

Frida Kempff’s film opens with a foreboding bang and ends with a muted knock. The Swedish thriller ominously leads the viewer on a journey that seemingly has no end. Despite the short run time, one hour and eighteen minutes, the tension manufactured in the first twenty minutes is squandered a bit in favor of surreal set pieces and puzzling questions. Too many needless twists and confusing plot beats muddle the resolution until there is nothing but confusion.

Molly wakes from a peaceful dream just as someone begins to scream. Between the interesting top-down camera angle, which begs comparison to a surveillance camera to the moldy green of the water, something is wrong with this dream that has quickly become a nightmare. Something terrible happened in Molly’s past, and she wasn’t able to help the one she loved the most. That much is evident from the many times she revisits this same event. Whatever happened left its mark on her and is why she found herself staying at a psychiatric facility. In a rush of subdued emotions and tedious familiarities, Molly finds herself resuming life outside. Her doctor checks in with her by phone, often keeping her grounded, and the tidy apartment may be the perfect way to regain her life if only she can shake that nagging feeling that something isn’t right.

Molly isn’t well, though, and it takes very little time for her to start behaving erratically. The past haunts her in strangely placed graffiti on the elevator wall, voicemail messages she can’t bring herself to delete, and in half-full bottles of Absinthe. She is already fragile and is put even further on edge by the muffled knocking coming from somewhere above her. Between the oppressive heat and her delicate state, it isn’t long before she searches the internet for Morse Code translations. She is like a tiny bird who fails to find footing on her balcony rail. She grasps and claws and finds brief periods of equilibrium before she slides off into the abyss again.

Whatever happened to her has left her troubled. Most of what we see is through her skewed point of view, and it is faulty, but that doesn’t mean it is all wrong. That’s the biggest flaw with the film. Kempff doesn’t seem to know what she wants from Molly. Too many plot beats that go nowhere layer unresolved dread. Especially with the hybrid gaslighting/Rear Window premise, which could have been so compelling.

Since Alfred Hitchcock first made Rear Window movies with suspect witnesses and deeply embedded neighbor mysteries have become a mainstay of cinema. Few can bring something new to the trope. Knocking could have been that fresh take if only it had realized its potential. The men surrounding Molly don’t believe her. In part because of her erratic behavior but also because of who she is. That root deep conclusion is the heart of the film.

Cecilia Milocco delivers a powerful performance that is as understated as it is strong. She perfectly captures both Molly’s desperation and her despair in subtle glances and furtive stares. The film relies heavily on Milocco to propel the story forward and convey her increasing anxiety. She delivers both effortlessly. Kempff smartly frames her face with the tenderness of a lover and the malignance of a stalker.

Knocking smartly uses unsettling insistent noise to drive Molly and the viewer to the inevitable and disturbing conclusion. Interesting camera angles drive the uneasy narrative while the effective soundtrack captures Molly’s mood in excruciating detail. The final haunting act pings wildly between devastating despair and exhaustive redemption. Those elements prove Kempff can produce a quality film. Unfortunately, she just got lost in the turns.

Slow burning and stylish, Knocking isn’t perfect, but there is enough meat on the bone to make it worth your while for fans of this type of horror. Women in pain, horror as tragedy, and trauma are hardly new concepts. Knocking wants to forge new ground in the mash-up of classic gaslighters, Rear Window, and Swallow but only manages to scratch the surface. The super-quick run time feels deliberately brief, as if any more time spent in Moly’s head would dilute her message. If only we knew what that message was.