Jess (Katee Sackhoff) has returned to Britain after nine years away when she managed to kick her drinking problem, although at the cost of the relationship with the daughter, Chloe (Lucy Boynton), she left behind in care. But now she is determined to make amends, and has applied to take custody of the girl, no matter that she is almost old enough to look after herself, and when they meet for the first time in a long while the encounter does not go well, with Chloe making no secret of her resentment towards her mother. In fact, she tells her in no uncertain terms she is not interested in any reconciliation and Jess has to leave, suitably abashed, retreating to her sprawling mansion house she and her husband Ben (Richard Mylan) maintain as part studio for her sculptures, part home...
But a house is not a home without a complete family would appear to be Jess's thinking, and it looks as if we are set for a domestic drama - ah, but hold your horses, take a look at that title, it's a horror movie, isn’t it? Don't Knock Twice was a low budget Welsh production, though not so low budget they could not afford some nifty special effects which were sparingly implemented but well delivered by director Caradog W. James, which was just as well because he needed this to be strong on atmosphere when the script by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler tied itself in knots to sustain a high degree of suspense. This led to the accustomed twists in this sort of thing, all of them crammed into the final act, more or less.
Sackhoff was a nice bit of casting as the regulation American having a terrible time in Britain, as was so often the case in films set here with stars imported from across the Pond, but she always came across as a leading lady who would be more comfortable in character roles, and here she was able to combine the two as the crusading mother protecting her offspring and a person with a lot of issues she thinks she has gotten over until she makes moves to start acting like a normal human being, whereupon life rears up and smacks her on the nose. It may have been more accurate to say that the afterlife smacks her on the nose, for strange forces were abroad here.
For rather, the undead does, since her daughter has unleashed a sinister force that makes terrible demands on her, and by extension everyone else in the story: the apparition of a woman she and her friends used to torment until the old lady committed suicide in despair. This is further revealed to be at the instigation of a demonic force (the plot goes into details yet still comes across as vague) that is seeking to take revenge, or simply exploit an unfortunate set of circumstances that seems contrived to say the least, or relying on humanity's worst impulses to be set in motion which even for this sort of affair is difficult to swallow. Now, the bigger problem with that is, it's not really Chloe's fault, she did not awaken the spectre on her own, it was her pal Danny (Jordan Bolger) who started it, she merely has to suffer the consequences.
That was a sticking point throughout Don't Knock Twice, as the sense of justice seen to be done was severely lacking, and if that's the path you are taking in a horror movie, it would be best not to set the whole premise up as a yarn about recompense and general spiritual restitution when you were planning to refuse to deliver on any of that: it wasn't shocking, it was frustrating. Imagine if in A Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy Krueger was established as innocent, only to reveal at the end not only was he guilty but he was set up as always going to win? OK, that happened in the Elm Street remake, and that was a cheat there as well, so in spite of solid work by all concerned they could not get over the way that storyline messed the audience about for the sake of serving up those twists. A pity, since there were nice, Japanese-influenced features here, unusual enough in a British chiller to be striking, but not quite enough to wholly satisfy in spite of confidence in the handling. Music by James Edward Barker and Steve Moore.