DVDanger: Don't Knock Twice

Home release horror, plus J-horror streaming news and more

Katee Sackhoff faces more-than-normal teen angst from her daughter in Don't Knock Twice (Image courtesy of IFC Midnight)

Quick note: Do not confuse improv dramedy Don’t Think Twice with supernatural shocker Don't Knock Twice. That said, the indie horror's gorgeous, flame-wrapped credit sequence makes it clear that, rather than eliciting laughs, it takes an established horror trope and throws it into a cold-flamed inferno.

Fresh off well-received horrors I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House and The Blackcoat's Daughter, Lucy Boynton (better known for Sing Street to the arthouse crowd) plays Chloe, a grumpy teen who wants nothing to do with her recovering addict mother Jess (Katee Sackhoff, Battlestar Galactica). Her hand is forced when she does what any dumb, sullen teen does, and invokes the wrath of a neighborhood ghost. Seeking refuge from the vengeful spirit, she heads to the English countryside, where her artist mother and her banker boyfriend attempt to make the prodigal daughter feel at home. It's not easy, as all they see is a petulant child who throws bowls of carrot and coriander soup onto the floor. But then, they don't see what Chloe sees in the bowl …

Director Caradog James (whose is currently adapting his 2013 sci-fi thriller The Machine for SyFy) is not reinventing any horror wheels, but that’s arguably because the ghost story is one that is made better by the flourishes and finishing, not by radical reinvention of the underpinning ideas. The script by British kids' TV veterans Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler (best known, and not kidding here, for their Moomin and Thomas the Tank Engine reinventions) depends on the lean elegance of shadows and malice. They dispose of any doubt that the malevolent entity is real through a graphic first-act dispatching of Chloe’s boyfriend, which sparks her flight to the countryside. It’s then that they find a surprisingly delicate balance between the mother-daughter drama and the supernatural forces that threaten their lives.

Of course, that requires a suitably sinister antagonist, and so Huckerby and Ostler’s script injects the grand Russian myth of the child-eating Baba Yaga. They do so with an effortless nod to the fact that Britain has become a deeply European nation with a resident Slavic population that is not portrayed as “other.” There are none of the qualms that were raised by, for example, Sam Raimi’s cartoonish representation of Gypsy culture in Drag Me to Hell.

Unlike Raimi's manipulative funhouse, with its unlikable central character, Don't Knock Twice has some emotional heft. Much of the sympathy flows from Sackhoff, who paints Jess as a fractured soul trying to pin herself back together. Pallid and jittery, this further secures her position as one of genre cinema’s leading lights.

Don't Knock Twice (IFC Midnight) is available on Blu-ray/DVD combo and VOD now. Also available now:

A radical reinvention of the found-footage trope finally gets a U.S. release as Noroi: The Curse arrives on dedicated horror site Shudder.

Director Kôji Shiraishi is one of the mainstays of modern J-horror, and one of his most interesting works finally arrives in the U.S. Having recently acquired domestic streaming rights for his latest film, 2016's J-horror mega-mashup Sadako vs. Kayako (read our Fantastic Fest review here), dedicated horror site Shudder has wisely added his innovative and unnerving 2005 shocker Noroi: The Curse to their archives.

Shiraishi is more than capable of pushing horror to its most graphic and lurid extremes (as in the aptly named Grotesque), but here he burns low and slow. The first of a cycle of five found-footage/mockumentary hybrids, it follows supernatural documentarian Masafumi Kobayashi (Jin Muraki) in his last-ever investigation. The pre-recorded intro leaves his fate a little ambiguous: all the authorities know is that, after he handed the final episode of his VHS series over to his publishers, his wife died in a house fire and he disappeared. Exactly what happened is laid out in that final tape, The Curse, in which urban legend chaser Kobayashi finds an urban legend chasing him.

Noroi was marked at release as one of the most narratively complex and layered of J-horrors, and Shiraishi's greatest achievement is that he pulls everything together so smoothly, dripping in new complexities that actually smooth out, rather than bog down, the story. A chilling mélange of demons, ghosts, stolen fetuses, child psychics, and Japanese variety shows, he even manages to absorb the addition of Mitsuo Hori (Satoru Jitsunashi, Ju-On: The Grudge 2), a tinfoil hat-wearing medium, rambling about worms. Instead of a goofy diversion, he becomes a deranged Cassandra, and Kobayashi is smart (or senseless) enough to never write off this holy fool.

Film schools should probably also add it to the curriculum, as Shiraishi really helped move the needle on found footage far beyond the limitations of The Blair Witch Project knockoffs. He undoubtedly slides in a scene or two that slip into Burkittsville city limits, but his ingenious use of professional footage, TV clips, later edits, and the mockumentary format make for a spine-chiller that is both nerve-jangling and eerily entrancing.

A lion in mourning: Arnold Schwarzenegger is buried by grief in Aftermath (Image courtesy of Lionsgate)

There are ghosts of a very different kind in Aftermath (Lionsgate, on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD now), the latest unlikely addition to the catalog of Arnold Schwarzenegger. In case anyone thought that his tender turn in Maggie was an aberration, it is clear that grief and loss are playing hard upon the mind of the aging action hero and former politician, and that somehow he is producing something a little miraculous in the evening of his acting career.

In Maggie, he played a father facing the fact that his daughter (Abigail Breslin) is turning into a zombie, and really told a story of assisted suicide. In Aftermath, he is once again a father: Roman, a construction worker whose wife and daughter are flying in from Europe. When he goes to the airport to pick them up, he tells the staff how he's glad they're coming, that all their paperwork is in order (for the first time since maybe Red Heat, the thick-accented Ahnuld plays a migrant). And then he is taken into a room, and he hears crying through the wall, and his voice breaks as he asks, "Where is my family?"

What has happened offscreen is that an air-traffic controller (Scoot McNairy as Jake) was too busy with malfunctioning equipment, and two planes collided midair on his watch.

Saying that McNairy is poignant and fragile as a regular guy with endless blood on his hands is a given. But it's yet again Schwarzenegger who drives the narrative as a broken bull of a man. There is a pivotal scene, a brief shower scene, where he is revealed in all his weaknesses: sagging muscle now just bulk, tired and waiting for his family to be reunited. It's a moment of frailty that shows the depths he tapped in Maggie were just a surface ripple, and that we may be seeing him diving into something truly spectacular, and parts that fit this lion in winter. In short, if we don't get the Schwarzenegger King Lear within the next five years, I may have to film it myself.

Dan Stevens can't see his future in The Ticket, now on Blu-ray from Shout! Select (Image courtesy of Shout! Select)

Aftermath speaks directly to the seemingly capricious nature of the universe and the self-destructive decisions that are too easy to make, and that's a theme running throughout The Ticket (Shout! Factory Select). Dan Stevens (The Guest, Beauty and the Beast) gives depth and pathos in his performance as a blind man who regains his vision and then bulldozes his life apart. After a VOD release last month, director Ido Fluk's elegiac take on one man's self-destruction is on Blu-ray now.

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