A middle-aged woman, released from a psychiatric facility, moves into a block of flats. Settling in and finding her feet again, one night she begins to hear a thumping sound. Nobody else hears it. Is she going mad or is she on to something?
The fictional feature debut of Swedish documentary filmmaker Frida Kempff, Knocking is a powerful statement on the place of women in society, wrapped inside a psycho-horror yarn with nods to J-horror, and the classics of Bergman and Polanski. It is spearheaded by Cecilia Milocco’s superlative performance.
Through a series of fragmentary flashbacks, dreamlike and emotionally poignant, we can piece together that Molly’s girlfriend died in an accident at the beach, and the tragedy led to a nervous breakdown. There are scenes where it appears the poor woman is made of glass and is about to shattering into a thousand pieces through pure grief, the weight of the loss unbearable, while in others, she’s a ball of manic energy and unafraid to stand her ground.
With an increasing fixation on a thumping noise disturbing her at all hours, her puzzlement turns to irritation turns to torment, the film cleverly putting us in the shoes of her many detractors. We, the audience – and they, her neighbours – chalk it off as auditory hallucination. They (and we) think she’s just being hysterical, she can’t cope, she’s going bonkers again, because this is a horror movie, right? There can’t possibly be a sane reason? But like a dog with a bone, she won’t let go and sets about finding out.
Set during a summer heatwave, the visuals have a sticky, fever dream ambience, and the predominant orange sodium street-lighting aids the moody vibe further. As the story progresses and Molly’s investigation into the thump-thump-thumping starts to antagonise her neighbours, especially the blokes, who think she’s a total loon (the police do too), we slowly venture out of the psychological chiller genre into the real world we live in; where women are never believed; where they’re told they’re wrong; where they’re told to shut up, and where the menfolk always know best. The horror in Knocking isn’t supernatural or down to mental illness: it’s societal. The clever switch in perspective leaves a haunting impression and makes Kempff’s segue into fiction a triumph.
Arrow Video FrightFest runs from Thurs 26th August to Monday 30th at the Cineworld Empire, Leicester Square. The digital event, Best of the Fest, runs from 1st to 5th September. For tickets, digital event and Covid 19 health policy information, click here.
Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio