From writer/director Caradog James and producer John Giwa-Amu, who gave us the inventive 2013 sci-fi The Machine, comes Don’t Knock Twice? starring Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton and Nick Moran.
Sackhoff plays American sculptor Jess, a former addict who has turned her life around and is now settled in the UK with her banker husband (Moran). When she decides to reconnect with Chloe (Boynton), the daughter she was forced to give up nine years ago, she’s shocked to discover that Chloe has only agreed to come and live with her because she’s terrified of a supernatural curse. Chloe claims her boyfriend Danny (Jordan Bolger) was taken by a vengeful child-eating witch and is frightened she’s next on the urban legend’s menu. At first, Jess disbelieves her Chloe, but when she learns that other children have gone missing, Jess sets out to uncover the truth…
I really really enjoyed James and Giwa-Amu’s The Machine (you can read my review here), so I was so looking forward to being surprised once again by the Red and Black Film gang, but their Welsh-filmed horror follow-up – which puts a contemporary spin on Hansel and Gretel and the Baba Yaga legend, with a dash of bit of estranged mother-daughter reconnecting – fails to deliver.
Yes, it’s got a couple of scary moments, as well as solid performances from all involved, but I was left feeling I had seen it all somewhere before. Now, the long-fingered witch make-up is terrific, but its physical movements were too much like The Ring‘s Sadako Yamamura or The Exorcist‘s Linda Blair in full possession mode to really stand out. It’s also very dark – not so much in tone, but in the excessive use of low lighting effects – which had me wondering if the film-makers had run out of budget as well as steam.
Don’t Knock Twice? is out on VOD and DVD from Signature Entertainment
In a future where the West is on the verge of a global war with China, troubled military scientist Vincent (Toby Stephens) is using cutting edge cybernetic technology to repair the bodies and minds of wounded soldiers.
Desperate to perfect his research, he hires Artifical Intelligence expert Ava (Caity Lotz), who only agrees to help after discovering he is secretly trying to heal his disabled daughter. But when she stumbles on the project’s ultimate goal: the creation of cyborg soldiers, Ava is executed on the orders of Vincent’s superior (Denis Lawson).
Using Ava’s scans and likeness, Vincent then creates his Machine, which turns out to be more human than humanoid, causing the scientist to rethink where he’s true loyalties lie….
Writer-director Caradog James makes a tiny budget go a long way in this Welsh-made sci-fi thriller, that’s so deserving of its many festival awards thanks to the excellent performances, effective production design and special effects, and an inventive story that manages to slip in some existential angst while paying homage to its sci-fi past.
Yes, its got bits of Frankenstein, Metropolis and RoboCop in there, but James’s tech-noir thriller also stands on its own as classy, clever sci-fi that also begs some interesting questions: Will machines in the future develop consciousness? Can love be programmed? In many ways, The Machine recalls more cerebral cinematic sci-fi fare like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, which also favoured social/political commentary over large-scale pyrotechnics.
But The Machine isn’t all talk and no action – just see what happens when Ava goes all Terminatrix on her masters – it’s just that this is the kind of sci-fi that makes you think. Plus, there’s Lotz’ nuanced performance as the humanoid artificial intelligence to savour, and watching her fembot evolve into a thinking, feeling ‘being’ is what grips you throughout…