The Postman Never Rings Once: "Don't Knock Twice" creeps well before plot convolutions take over

Don't Knock Twice (2017)
93 min., rated R. 

As horror indie "Don’t Knock Twice" seems to prove, sometimes it just takes an unstoppably evil hag to help strengthen the bond between an estranged (and equally troubled) mother and daughter. Director Caradog James (2014's "The Machine") and screenwriters Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler (2015's "Howl") develop a creepy mythos that takes on an urban-legend-bleeding-into-reality approach, but the two women at the center really are what holds the film together. Doubling as a mother-daughter reconciliation drama and a fright flick with a supernatural presence, "Don't Knock Twice" wants to have it both ways—and often recalls 2016's "Lights Out" in both of those similar aims—but despite a shaky final third, it is an effective twofer in its own right.

Due to her long battle with addiction, American sculptor Jess (Katee Sackhoff) had to give up daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton). Now happily married to British banker Ben (Richard Mylan), she has moved back across the pond permanently and wants to rebuild her relationship with Chloe after nine years. When Jess applies to get custody and visits her teenage daughter at a children’s home, Chloe tells her mother off and refuses to go live with her. Later that night, Chloe and her boyfriend, Danny (Jordan Bolger), visit a small dilapidated house next to a highway where a young boy went missing. It was the former home of an alleged witch named Mary Aminov, dubbed “Ginger” for her red hair, and it is said that if one knocks on her door not once but twice, Mary's ghost will return. After Danny mysteriously disappears and Chloe realizes she will be next, she shows up at the door of Jess and Ben’s country manor in the middle of the night. Jess might not believe her daughter at first, thinking Chloe is just acting out, until she sees old Mary in her dreams. 

The characters certainly matter and so do the scares in "Don't Knock Twice," a creeping horror drama rooted in the real world but dipping its toes into a grim Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Directed by Caradog James, the film is crafted with a pall of disquiet and foreboding that’s never undone by foolish character decisions for the sake of propelling the narrative forward. Jess and Chloe are already in a tough spot before they even become preyed upon by the witchy Mary Aminov, and the script never lets them off the hook too easily. The healing journey Chloe takes with Jess under the most fantastical of circumstances still rings emotionally true, and the two actors commit to help earn the film’s emotional through line. To read the rest of the review, go to Diabolique Magazine.

Grade: B -