After putting her in foster care as a child, successful artist and recovered drug addict Jess (Katee Sackhoff) is desperate to build some bridges with her now full-grown, stroppy teenage daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton).

Despite a decade of nursed grievances and abandonment issues, It’s lucky then that a desperate Chloe needs a place to hide out from the vengeful demonic spirit she and her boyfriend Danny (Jordan Bolger) have pissed off, the Candyman-lite ghost of a local witch who killed herself after being accused of murdering one of the children from the foster home, a childhood friend of Chloe and Danny.

Apparently, if you knock once on her door, you raise old Mary from her bed. Knocking twice raises her from the dead with predictably dire results. When Danny disappears in mysterious circumstances, Chloe takes refuge with Jess in her big house in the country.

But as the pair tentatively feel each other out, try to bridge the gulf of guilt, neglect and resentment that separates them, things start to go bump in the night and they’re assaulted by visions of death and suicide and a spindly demon, Baba Yaga, an entity that breaks out of their dreams to physically attack Chloe. As the witch’s attacks intensify, can Jess find a way to save both her daughter and herself?

Déjà vu. From the French “already seen.” That intuitive experience, that flash of memory that we’ve been here before, we’ve met that person, know them, that we’ve had this conversation already. Déjà vu is that glitch in time, that nagging suspicion that we’ve seen it all before. Scientists theorise that the phenomenon is an example of cryptomnesia, where learned information is forgotten but stored, requiring just the right stimulus to light up the memory centres of the brain, a neurological discharge resulting in an overwhelming sense of familiarity. A momentary brain fart, commonly experienced by about 80% of us. Nothing to worry about. Completely natural.

Sometimes though we experience déjà vu because we really have seen it all before. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s hard to tell a good tale well and, if director Caradog James’ follow-up to his low-budget sci-fi thriller The Machine lacks originality, well, Don’t Knock Twice is at least told well. Looking and feeling like the Western remake of a never produced J-horror, Don’t Knock Twice borrows plot elements from the likes of Drag Me To Hell, sheep-bothering Welsh horror The Dark, Lights Out, Stir Of Echoes and, most obviously, Candyman, blending them into a cocktail of vengeful ghosts, urban myths and demonic possession in service to a tale of parental guilt.

Strip away the supernatural elements of the film however and you’re left with a tale of two damaged women, a mother and daughter trying to repair their fractured relationship, and the film is at its best when exploring the bonds between Chloe and Jess, their bristling skittishness around each other, their scenes together bubbling under with raw emotion, barely contained regret and anger. The hungry, emaciated ghost stalking them could just as easily be their shared past, ruined by Jess’ addiction and abandonment, the misshapen sculptures she moulds and remoulds in her womblike ex-chapel studio stand-ins for the perfect daughter she craves but threw away.

Despite being about ten years too old to be playing stroppy teenager Chloe (and only a decade or so younger than her co-star), Lucy Boynton brings a refreshingly spiky vulnerability to the role while Sackhoff’s as dependable as ever as the desperate, increasingly unhinged Jess, even if after this and Oculus, child services will probably be keeping a close eye on her if she ever has kids. Her delightfully unhinged solution to being assailed by a ghost who announces itself by knocking on your door is to simply take all the doors in the house off their hinges and burn them in a bonfire in the garden is both a deranged moment of genius and a much welcome flash of humour in a B-movie that takes itself far too seriously. There’s also decent support from Nick Moran as a shifty policeman and The Machine’s striking Pooneh Hajimohammadi, each offering very different takes on Jess’ predicament.

Boasting some effective mechanical jump scares, particularly a Skype-witnessed attack, and some nice images (the ghost emerging from a kitchen sink overflowing with blood is as good a reason as any to avoid the washing up) Don’t Knock Twice is a decent but forgettable little timewaster that adds up to much less than it’s considerable parts.

Movie Review: Don't Knock Twice
3.5Overall Score
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