‘Knocking’ Is A Terrifying Look at the Horrors of Mental Illness
Knocking is a scrappy, slow-burn horror-thriller that keeps the viewer in a constant state of uncertainty and suspense until the very end. The flick serves up noteworthy performances, intense atmosphere, and a commentary on the horrors of mental illness.
Molly (Çecilia Milocco) moves into a new apartment after her release from a psychiatric facility. When she begins to hear strange noises from the floor above her, Molly starts to wonder if what she is hearing is real or if she may be experiencing a relapse of symptoms.
Milocco does a remarkable job of conveying Molly’s grief, brokenness, and fear through a series of despondent looks, reluctant sighs, and various other non-verbal cues. It’s quite clear that she is feeling a variety of painful emotions. Yet, Molly rarely expresses any of that through spoken word. Knocking relies ever-so-heavily on the strength of its lead and Milocco nails it. Much of the picture’s runtime is made up of Molly, sitting alone in her new apartment. But thanks to her powerful central performance, the film never drags.
Even when she is in the company of others, Molly gives off a sense of isolation. And that’s quite fitting, seeing that her neighbors, the police, and everyone else she meets discount her experience and immediately concludes she isn’t credible. That’s bound to be a lonely and terrifying existence. It’s also likely a sensation with which anyone battling severe mental health issues is quite familiar.
Milocco delivers a palpable sense of hopelessness in her portrayal of Molly. She is believable as a woman who thinks she is in danger. Her subtle performance conveys everything the viewer needs to know without the need for excessive dialogue. Milocco manages to tell us a lot while saying very little.
The sound design, score, cinematography, and set design all complement Milocco’s performance and help to convey a sense of seclusion and uncertainty. Knocking also features a muted color palette that looks bleak and sterile. All of this comes together to instill a sense of hopelessness and anxiety in the viewer that closely echoes what Molly is feeling.
Furthering that feeling of unease, director Frida Kempff uses tight, closely-cropped shots, even during the less intense sequences to give the impressions that someone is waiting, just outside the frame, to sneak up on Molly and do her some form of harm.
During the relatively innocuous first act, I found myself perpetually waiting for the other shoe to drop. By the time things got wild, my nerves were already shredded. Knocking has a menacing quality about it, which is impressive because there isn’t a lot happening until the nearly one-hour mark.
The disorienting, frantic camerawork near the start of the third act is highly effective and unnerving. That’s not something I can recall having seen used much outside of found footage genre. But it works to great effect here. It perfectly speaks to Molly’s state of mind.
Further intensifying the experience, the viewer doesn’t know if Molly is reliable or not. We are aware that she has endured mental health struggles and we know she seems to be the only one aware of the knocking sounds coming from the floor above her. Molly, herself, seems to doubt her own experience. Perhaps believing that she may be enduring some sort of relapse of symptoms. As she becomes more fixated on the sounds and finds herself convinced the banging means something, Molly appears to be spiraling out of control and into a delusion. That uncertainty further fueled my paranoia and made the viewing experience that much more meaningful
Knocking taps into the inherent horrors of living with mental illness and the way we, as a society, distrust and discount the experience of those navigating mental health struggles.
If you’re curious to check the flick out, you can catch it on VOD now!
Knocking is intense and atmospheric; Cecilia Milocco delivers a standout performance.