KNOCKING **** Sweden 2021 Dir: Frida Kempff. 78 mins
Shot in a suitably confined screen ratio (1.66:1) for maximum claustrophobia, this is an inventively executed, intense entry in the “is-she-or-isn’t-she-going-mental” sub-genre. Molly (a superb, empathetic performance by Cecilia Milocco) feels the time is right to return to “normality” after a year in psychiatric care. Her adjustment back to sunlight, public transport and a new apartment (via an elevator sporting ‘Help’ in bright red on the walls) melds with fragments of the woman she loved: Facebook-documented memories, oblique hints of something occurring on a picturesque beach. Almost immediately, she is disturbed by a repetitive knocking on her ceiling. Neighbours – notably the odd, potentially sinister guy living upstairs – deny responsibility but she becomes increasingly convinced of a woman being brutalised on the premises.
Effectively (and topically) set against the backdrop of an extreme European heatwave and making suitably unsettling use of sound (the whir of Molly’s fan, a constant electrical hum, the trilling of an injured bird, Molly’s weirdly jarring ring tone), this also employs the visual language of well known past chillers. The protagonist at times acts like James Stewart’s Everyman voyeur in REAR WINDOW as she bears witness to potentially sinister acts across the courtyard, or the troubled mother at the heart of DARK WATER, fixating on an evolving, disturbing stain on the ceiling. The discordant score mimics the increasingly abrasive knocking of the title and even the rare moments of Molly relaxing and enjoying herself (having a drink and dancing to Leslie Gore’s 60s classic “You Don’t Own Me”) have an undercurrent of menace.
Director Frida Kempff never breaks away from Milocco’s perspective, so we experience her mounting paranoia without cutaways to intrusive sub-plots or extraneous characters. Time fractures with her state of mind, and extended sequences play out via body-mounted cameras that keep us locked on her anguished face while non-reassuring voices of off-camera characters add to the disorientation. It’s a gripping take on familiar thriller tropes though, from a 2021 vantage point, an all-too convincing portrait of a mentally unbalanced character in her own lockdown – endlessly haunted by the spectre of mental illness, represented by that insistent knocking, from which none of us are immune.
Review by Steven West