Review by Sean Boelman
Film festivals are known for discovering some of the craziest and most bizarre midnight movies out there, but the Swedish thriller Knocking is on the more normal end of the spectrum. A competent and atmospheric yet mostly straightforward psychological thriller, this isn’t the type of movie that will start the lingering conversation it needed to succeed.
The film follows a woman who leaves a psychiatric ward only to begin to break down again when she starts to hear a mysterious knocking sound in her apartment. A lot of the tension in the movie comes from the mystery of not knowing whether or not what the character is experiencing is real, but other films have done this more effectively (all the way back to Rear Window).
Even though the movie is a mere seventy-eight minutes long, it will struggle to keep some viewers’ attention. There are definitely some great moments that allow the audience to dial into the protagonist’s paranoia, but at a certain point, it starts to feel repetitive as opposed to the slow descent into insanity that it is supposed to be.
Based on a novel by Johan Theorin, Emma Broström’s script has the potential of being a really interesting commentary on mental health, but it ultimately doesn’t go anywhere. That isn’t to say the film feels empty — it is obvious what it wants to be saying — but there is a nagging feeling that it could have been more.
The character development in the movie is one of its weaker areas. Although the protagonist is compelling and it is easy to get behind her struggle, the supporting players are all stock characters. Although this has something to do with the world being built in the characters’ mind, it doesn’t help when it comes to the generic feel.
Cecilia Milocco’s lead performance is definitely quite strong. Since the film is mostly her reacting to different stimuli in the environment, she’s really the force driving the whole thing, and she does an excellent job of bringing a believable quality to the character. Even when the movie is moving a bit slower, she is able to sell the suspense.
Of course, it is on a technical level that the film is most impressive. The cinematography is consistently good and features a few shots that are beautifully disturbing. However, it is the sound design that is (predictably) the star of the show, heightening the tension in a way that is brilliant if not altogether subtle.
Knocking may not be the most spectacular thriller you’ll see this year, but it is effective nevertheless. Although it isn’t what one would typically expect in a festival midnight movie, that isn’t inherently a bad thing.
Knocking is screening at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival which runs virtually from January 28-February 3, 2021.