Supernatural horror tropes come thick and fast in Don’t Knock Twice, a disappointingly shopworn demonic yarn from director Caradog W. James. A little too easy to second guess a little too much of the time, a couple of unusual tweaks to the standard demon mythology aren’t enough to elevate this above supermarket horror purgatory.
Chloe (Lucy Boyton, dealing less in subtlety here than she did in Oz Perkins’ superlative February) is a troubled teenager who reunites with her estranged mother (Oculus‘ Katee Sackhoff) under admittedly unusual circumstances; having been driven to her in search of refuge after her boyfriend mysteriously disappears.
The particulars of this disappearance provide the film with one of its most convincing moments – after knocking twice on the door of a neighbourhood house supposedly inhabited by a witch earlier that night (historically not a smart idea, as both legend and title imply) , we witness his disappearance into the ether from the vantage point of Chloe’s laptop screen. As the supernatural phenomena seem to move around Chloe in ever tighter circles, she goes to live with her mother, and their attempts to reconnect are overshadowed by the looming feeling that she still hasn’t escaped the witch’s attentions.
While Don’t Knock Twice admittedly doesn’t offer the most sophisticated setup, it’s important to remember that in the context of the kind of film we’re dealing with here, this is pretty forgivable. It’s difficult to come down too harshly on it in this way – cerebral it isn’t, but there have been a wealth of far stupider variations on this theme in recent years. Instead, where the film fails is in its lack of depth. The rules it sets for itself are mostly fine, it’s how it works within those rules that lets it down.
Take, for example, the chronically underdeveloped central relationship between Chloe and her mother. In Don’t Knock Twice, characters mostly interact with each other in ways that ruthlessly further the plot, with no real regard to characterisation. This becomes a fatal flaw when it spills over into the central conflict: a glaring reminder of how little there is to cling on to here beyond the superficial.
A smart snap-back ending provides a pleasant late surprise, but what Don’t Knock Twice brings to the table in terms of third-act narrative freshness is unfortunately nullified by its otherwise strict adherence to genre conventions (most notably the age-old chestnut of the ethnic minority character who just so happens to be an expert in demonology). James’ directorial hand is steady, but for the mostpart, this all just feels a little too familiar.