Fantasia 2018: KNUCKLEBALL Review – Snowbound Thriller Evolves into a Stabbier Version of HOME ALONE

knuckleballfeature 750x422 - Fantasia 2018: KNUCKLEBALL Review – Snowbound Thriller Evolves into a Stabbier Version of HOME ALONE

Knuckleball Poster 207x300 - Fantasia 2018: KNUCKLEBALL Review – Snowbound Thriller Evolves into a Stabbier Version of HOME ALONEStarring Michael Ironside, Luca Villacis, Munro Chambers

Written by Kevin Cockle, Michael Peterson

Directed by Michael Peterson

Something is amiss when Henry’s (Luca Villacis) parents drop him off for a weekend at his grandfather’s (Michael Ironside) rural homestead. The combination of a brewing snowstorm and lack of phone service puts the audience on notice: expect the protagonist to be isolated and unable to call for help when shit hits the fan. But just what type of shit hits the fan?

I happily went into the film not knowing what curveballs it had in store. Establishing an uneasiness from the credits sequence, Knuckleball slowly unveils itself, not immediately revealing the nature of the conflict that will propel the story. It judiciously builds the character dynamic between Henry and his estranged grandfather, Jacob, while suggesting an unknown horror resting just beneath the surface. Is there something in the woods? Is Dixon (Munro Chambers), the kooky neighbor with bad teeth, a threat? Is Grandpa up to something sinister in the shed?

Patient cinematography locks us into a fixed location with a silent drama underneath the calm. Static shots ooze loneliness, as we are exposed to Jacob’s solitary lifestyle that seems to fill the void of emotional longing with a quasi-Puritanical work ethic. We see glimpses of fondness between Jacob and his grandson, primarily through teaching him how to pitch a baseball. Henry learns the proper grip for a smooth finger, changeup, and curve ball. When the boy asks about a knuckleball, Jacob instructs him to stick with the regular pitches, because it’s “too unpredictable.” His advice was speaking beyond baseball. Henry is a good kid, with no need to venture beyond what he knows, because he may not be capable of controlling what he finds when straying from the familiar path.

When an incident leaves Henry stranded, he must resort to seeking help from the nearest house, where Dixon resides in unsubtly creepy fashion. Upon learning that he is now completely alone with Henry, Dixon develops his own plans for the weekend.

While the first half of Knuckleball relies on tone, characterization, and insinuation, the second half explodes into a violent, back-and-forth pursuit that unleashes horrific family secrets along the way. This is where the film hits it out the park. Consider me pleasantly surprised when I suddenly found myself watching a brutal take on Home Alone – but this version features razor wire, stabbings, and melted skin.

Knuckleball strikes out in a few areas. It’s not quite as unpredictable as it tries to be, as I was often far too many steps ahead of plot revelations. The film’s major, climactic twist was hardly a surprise. The cast wavered between excellent and overly theatrical, with the young Luca Villacis standing out in a layered, understated performance. In what seems like a missed opportunity, Michael Ironside is perfectly gruff, but not terribly interesting in his role. Munro Chambers’ over-the-top rendition of Dixon didn’t leave room for the imagination; from the moment we saw this guy, we knew he was trouble.

  • Knuckleball


Though more nuance could have led to a home run, Knuckleball is worth the price of admission. If you’re a fan of slow burn thrillers or kids setting up booby traps, then this one is for you. ­­­­

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