After two teens make the decision to do the very thing the title wisely warns them not to, the appetizer character is yanked out of his dorm room within about five minutes by a specter that was forged from the same template as a dozen other possession films this year. He’s never to be seen again.
Why is it, then, that the ghoul needs to make twenty spooky background appearances before finally making contact with main character Chloe (Lucy Boynton)? There is an explanation about demons and human slaves that ties to the story of a witch who is summoned a la “Candyman” by Chloe and boyfriend Danny (Jordan Bolger), but there is really no context in which this urban legend can manifest, nor any rhyme or reason for why such a vengeful entity would bother to mess with its victims’ utility bills (though admittedly, some months during the summer, those things can get pretty scary) before getting down to it.
“Don’t Knock Twice” has all the usual spectral foreplay, the visions, the oh wait, it’s just a dream, the flickering lights, the corpse with severe scoliosis coming in for the kill only to disappear when the person turns around—and finally—a Boo! But again, our mark is spared to be scared another day.
This gives Chloe’s estranged recovering addict mom Jess (Katee Sackhoff), who’d given Chloe up for adoption and is now trying to reconnect, plenty of time to investigate the origin of the witch. Chloe believes that the witch has abducted her friend, so it makes little sense why she’d be so cavalier about tempting the authenticity of the legend (sidebar: this might be the only haunted house ever that is directly on the freeway).
So anyway, they summon the demon, which appears in her dorm, but unlike her ill-fated beau, the ghost takes the circuitous approach with Chloe. (By the way, ghost? Witch? Demon? Tax collector? Never quite clear). This scenic route takes her reluctantly back to mom’s, an estate where Jess is a successful sculptor and her husband is a well-dressed guy who puts the seven-figure roof over their heads and goes on business trips.
Fortunately for them, one of Jess’s subjects is an authority on demon law, which must include a requisite number of clichéd scares before making a legitimate move on any principal character. And when a movie flashes back to itself before it has even reached the half hour mark, you might think the writers (Mark Huckerby, Nick Ostler) have spent their arsenal. Director Caradog W. James (“The Machine”) probably does best by the given material, and Sackhoff and Boynton’s acting is confident, but they demand characters that are more thoroughly developed. “The Grudge” meets “Stir of Echos” is what we end up with, which by no means is all bad, but there’s nothing new or particularly scary here.
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—M. Parsons 2017