SUNDANCE 2021 PREMIERE – Knocking (or “Knackningar”) is a Swedish-language film directed by Frida Kempff that is due to screen at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. A crime drama that slowly morphs into psychological horror, Knocking is a quiet movie that builds to an intense paranoia in its final throes. Primarily set in an apartment building, Knocking is slightly claustrophobic inducing, as the world caves in on the film’s unreliable but unwavering heroine.
Knocking stars Cecilia Milocco as Molly, a woman who lost her lover in a tragic drowning accident and subsequently suffered a mental breakdown. Now released from the psychiatric hospital treating her illness, Molly moves into a new apartment to attempt to start her life again. After settling in, Molly begins to hear knocking, however, all of her neighbors insist that they are not the culprit. When Molly thinks she notices a pattern to the knocking, the clues that follow send her on a maddening wild goose chase to find and save a woman she believes is signaling for her help.
From the premise, I believed Knocking would be on the thrilling side, and it does reach a boiling point, however, not until, arguably, the final third, and, primarily just the climax really, leaving the majority of the movie to feel as though it is oddly quiet and slow to build anticipation and suspense. The characters kept mentioning there was a heatwave, but I didn’t see that uncomfortable, rising intensity that a heatwave is supposed to do portrayed in the film or in the actors’ expressions. I did enjoy each of the characters and their acting performances, which made the slow-burning first two-thirds of the film enjoyable nonetheless.
Though a slow burner at first, Knocking does boil over towards the end when the doubt-inducing events all come to a head. Emma Broström’s writing makes the audience question whether the protagonist is just a crazy “Karen” or if she is actually hearing noises. In its last gasps, Knocking produces some breathtaking artistry in cinematography and direction, and the protagonist, Molly, is given a brilliantly written, cathartic ending, brought home by Cecilia Milocco’s powerful performance. Molly was one of the more realistic heroines I have seen in quite a while, her psychological faults serving to humanize her and also fueling the fire beneath Milocco’s performance as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Knocking‘s most evident accomplishment is its acting performances, with Cecilia Milocco standing out as a wonderfully authentic, vulnerable, and strong lead-female character, but Knocking was also directed well, with Kempff keeping the beginning parts interesting with shots that conveyed a thoughtfulness behind each character and an earnest attempt to show emotion rather than tell. Any viewers that enjoy psychological thrillers with an unreliable protagonist speckled with foggy events that are open to interpretation as far as reality vs. illusion should certainly get a kick out of Frida Kempff’s Knocking, which accomplishes just that.
7 out of 10