Coco Chanel once advised that before leaving the house you should remove one thing. The point being that less is more and an overabundance of accessories can spoil an underlying aesthetic. In cinematic terms Don’t Knock Twice takes a simple creepy premise and drenches it in weird plot twists and the two solid central performances are overshadowed by an amateurish supporting cast.
Don’t Knock Twice follows two plot strands; one surrounding teen Chloe (Lucy Boynton) who knocks twice on a door that will apparently summon a witch if knocked on twice and the inevitable fallout from that decision, and a second following Chloe as she tries to reconnect with her estranged mother Jess (Katee Sackhoff). The two storylines intertwine and their relationship is tested by a battle against supernatural forces but the two strands don’t play off each other nicely. This isn’t The Babadook where the monster is a manifestation of the familial issues in the rest of the film.
Sackhoff and Boynton give the film’s only two convincing performances as two damaged souls hesitantly reunited while all hell breaks loose. There’s an decent movie hidden in here somewhere but they are hugely let down by their fellow actors who are in turn given little to work with. One character in particular was often being laughed at by the audience as a result of the bizarre behaviour she was forced to portray. In a horror you need to be able to put yourself into the character’s position and that’s hard when people aren’t behaving like any human you’ve ever met.
That’s not to say that Don’t Knock Twice isn’t effective at the scares though. The witch itself is fantastically realised and there were moments of real terror in the film. One fellow audience member embarrassed himself with the height at which he jumped from his seat, and for once that man wasn’t me. Sadly, as I’ve mentioned, by the end of the film those scares have been diluted by other less successful elements, and a final act that was needlessly complicated and inserted a twist where none was needed.
If Coco Chanel were here I’m sure she would advise taking off the unnecessary twist and the bulk of the weaker supporting players to reveal the well fitted, emotionally fulfilling and delightfully scary horror film about mother-daughter relationships underneath.
Won’t watch twice.
Oculus is an American horror film about a brother (Brenton Thwaites) and sister (Karen Gillan) who reunite to destroy the haunted mirror that took the lives of both their parents (Katee Sackhoff & Rory Cochrane) and resulted in the brother spending his childhood in an institute. While the siblings battle to destroy the mirror in their old family home the past and present mirror (PUN!) each other as their childhood counterparts (Annalise Basso & Garrett Ryan) battle the same mirror in the same house 11 years earlier.
The idea of a haunted mirror might sound a little silly but most horror synopses suffer a similar flaw and whether or not this leads to the film’s failure or not is all in the execution. Oculus works best when showing the mirror’s powers in a non-corporeal way. Let me explain… The mirror can alter a person’s perception of reality so when they are eating an apple they actually eat a light bulb or remove their fingernail thinking it is a plaster. Little moments like this are genuinely creepy and aren’t signposted in advance like most scares in a modern horror.
Scares work less well when we see a physical representation of the mirror’s evil which takes the form of slightly ill-looking people, actually dead, who have shiny eyes. At first they make you jump but the longer the camera lingers on an actor in makeup the more they start to look like an actor in makeup. For the most part though the film does it job of creepiness and scares well enough and I had to hide behind my hand on at least one occasion.
Also managed well are the transitions between the two eras. Actors from the past and present day will pass on the stairs or a scene will cut suddenly and grown-up Karen Gillan will be replaced by the much younger Annalise Basso. The effort put into these moments shows an extra nugget of consideration and helps raise the film a notch in quality and above the noise of low budget horrors coming out each week. The ending too should be praised for showing a real commitment to the premise and integrity of the plot over what an audience might want.
It has been a week now since I saw the film and this allows for Oculus to be put to a real test for any half decent horror; has it stayed with me? The answer is sadly no. While scary while I was watching the film easily slipped from my mind as soon as I stepped outside the cinema and my sleep hasn’t been troubled by the sight of a mirror from my bed. While enjoyable spooky Oculus is probably not going to be held up as a classic in years to come.
Slick direction and editing really make this film and the fact that the director (Mike Flanagan) resists the temptation to make a found footage film despite the presence of technology is a real saving grace. Oculus is good, not great, and should make for a nice distraction on a wet summer evening.
But probably just…
Oculus is in UK cinemas this Friday 13th June.