by Marta Bałaga
- In her feature debut, shown in the Midnight section at Sundance, Frida Kempff checks out what goes bump in the night
There is something absolutely delicious about the fact that Frida Kempff decided to build the whole of Knocking [+see also:
interview: Frida Kempff
film profile] (showing at both Sundance and Göteborg) around one of the most frequently asked questions in horror: “Did you hear that?” But there is a problem: her protagonist, Molly (Cecilia Milocco), is so lonely that there is no one around to respond, and her stint in a psychiatric ward doesn't necessarily work in her favour as far as her credibility is concerned.
And yet she carries on, unfettered, driven crazy by the knocking that goes on mostly at night in the building she has moved into. It’s coming from somewhere nearby, seemingly one of the flats above. Molly might be fragile, having experienced a tragic loss that Kempff comes back to again and again, but the mere thought that someone else is calling for help, or trying to deliver a message, arguably makes her that much stronger – brazen enough to start interrogating her male neighbours about it or even barge into somebody's home. With nothing else to do, she would rather study Morse code than unpack, fixating on a stain on the ceiling that seems to have more of a life than she does. It’s no wonder that soon, she starts to get on everyone's nerves, tired of her calls, eavesdropping and empty accusations, of yet another lonely woman tiptoeing up and down the corridor, complaining about some strange noise or other.
With Kempff already describing her film as a story about “gaslighting”, it would actually be more fun to question Molly's behaviour more. Sure, the way she is dismissed rings very true, her claims deemed “hysterical” a bit too eagerly by all the boys in the building, but the way Milocco juggles it, things could easily go either way. There is some kind of hunger in her face – perhaps for any excitement at all, or a second chance at being a saviour this time around – that could have taken this much further than yet another tale of an overwhelming obsession growing within four walls, going into overdrive once the unbearable heatwave strikes.
There it is: Knocking could, and should, be a bit creepier, and maybe be given more time for all these nocturnal sounds to really crawl under your sweaty skin. With everyone here stuffed into their tiny flats, closing the doors in a hurry as if afraid to let in one breath of fresh air, there is already a pleasant sense of paranoia, but ultimately, it's an extremely modest production – shot over 18 days and without a scene to spare, as if Kempff went Harvey Scissorhands on her own movie. Which almost works, for the most part, but something is missing, some mystery unanswered, and the ending is, frankly, not worth the wait. Let's blame that unbearable heatwave.
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