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Saturday, January 30, 2021

[Sundance Review] ‘Knocking’ Challenges Perceptions with Stunning Psychological Thriller

Horror excels at capturing the paranoia and claustrophobic terror of gaslighting. Protagonists struggle to trust their instincts and become unreliable narrators in the viewer’s eyes while supporting characters work to isolate them from reality. Knocking repurposes that concept as a basis for its quiet thriller, creating an uneasy scenario in which a fragile mind threatens to unravel entirely thanks to mysterious sounds repeated every night in a new apartment. Director Frida Kempff‘s acute portrayal of a woman undone leans into convention yet still surprises.

Molly (Cecilia Milocco) moves into a new apartment building after a stint in a psychiatric ward for a nervous breakdown. She’s under doctor’s orders to attempt to resume her routine pre-admittance, which proves extra tricky in her unfamiliar new setting during a heatwave. Then Molly hears mysterious knocking coming from her ceiling at night. She investigates for answers, but her neighbors offer apathetic platitudes or dismiss her outright. As the sounds seem to increase each night, it sends Molly spiraling- is it all in her head as her neighbors presume, or is it something more sinister?

Kempff presents Knocking, written by Emma Broström, as a character study. Molly is still processing a profound trauma, but the inciting event’s details are kept close to the vest for as long as possible. Much of the short runtime is spent establishing Molly’s headspace, who she is, and how she attempts to spend her days. That means there are long stretches without dialogue as we watch Molly watch the world from her balcony or revisit old memories on her phone. It paints a vivid picture of her headspace but gives necessary and critical insight into her personality. The more the answers to the knocking’s source evade her, the more she runs afoul with the strangers in her vicinity. It creates a standard fractured mind scenario, but without the usual pretense of ambiguity.

Cecilia Milocco appears in Knocking by Frida Kempff | photo by Ida Zimmerman.

That’s what sets Knocking apart from its ilk. Kempff is ultimately lobbing a scathing critique of the social stigma that hurts those experiencing or recovering from mental trauma. The more desperate Molly becomes to stop the knocking and aid whoever might be behind it, the more her neighbors treat her like a pariah that should be sent back to her psychiatric facility. It’s not the knocking itself that is her undoing, but in how she’s treated by those understandably skeptical or unsure of her erratic behavior. Kempff cleverly makes the audience just as complicit in this, presenting Molly’s story in such a specific way to entice you to draw natural conclusions far before the end credits arrive.

Though many minor characters come and go, this is essentially a one-woman showcase for Milocco. Her portrayal of Molly devastates; this character is so utterly broken by tragedy and unable to make themselves whole again due to surrounding circumstances. It’s made all the more potent by Molly’s gentle vulnerability and eventual aggression. The gorgeous visuals only enhance the poignancy of this character’s deterioration.

The stylized depiction of a woman on the cusp of another breakdown bides its time, oh so slowly, in tying all the pieces together. So much so that it can be too easy to write Knocking off as another familiar psychological thriller following the same path laid out many times before. That’s precisely what you get, too, right up until Kempff knocks you off your feet with a mesmerizing and stunning finale that makes you realize this isn’t just Molly’s journey but the viewer’s as well. Knocking is an elegant indictment of gaslighting culture, and Kempff uses it to take the audience to task over their own perceptions.

Knocking made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3648560/sundance-review-knocking-challenges-perceptions-stunning-psychological-thriller/

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