Film Review: KNUCKLEBALL (Canada 2017) ***1/2

Knuckleball Poster
Alone, and targeted on an isolated farm, 12 year old Henry finds himself at the center of a maelstrom of terror, and a dark family legacy, when his secretive grandfather dies suddenly in the night.

Director:

Michael Peterson

KNUCKLEBALL is a Canadian horror thriller set in the U.S. in the dead of a winter storm.  It is advertised as an R-rated HOME ALONE in which a 12-year old boy must defend himself against a house intruder, in this case not only a killer but a pedophile.

As far as the story goes, it is a straight out too well-thread thriller plot with a few nasty bits added in.  By co-writer Michael Peterson knows how to put on the suspense in this exercise in terror.  Peterson understands the mechanics of a Hitchcockian thriller and applies it at best he can.

The film begins with a husband and wife dropping their son, a 12-year old Henry at his grandfather’s out in the woods while they fly out of the city.  It is clear from the dialogue that the relationship of the couple is estranged, which as expected (cliches occur quite a bit in the story) will improve later on, once they realize their boy is in trouble and they cannot get to him because of the storm.  

As the plot goes, the grandfather unexpectedly dies in the night.  Henry finds himself cut off and alone on an isolated farm.  When his nearest neighbour, Dixon, realizes that the boy has no one to protect him, Henry becomes a target for reasons he cannot understand.  With his parents at least 24 hours from returning and a massive snowstorm brewing,  Henry retreats into the house and prepares for a siege, HOME ALONE-style but so much more brutally violent.  We are talking barbed-wire here.   What follows is a desperate battle for survival that will also unlock the terrifying connection between his family and the killer next door. 

As in true Hitchcockian fashion, the terror does not arrive immediately.  In Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS and also Spielberg’s JAWS, the first attack occurs only after half the movie has passed.  In KNUCKLEBALL, the grandfather is alive with Henry for the first 30 minutes, with the film tending towards simple drama/comedy instead of a thriller.  Grandfather dies in bed at the 30-minute mark.

Peterson’s film contains lots of segments  that prompts audience anticipation.  When grandfather teaches Henry how to throw a knuckleball, one knows that Henry will eventually use his new craft at his intruder.  There is one point that grandfather collapses from a heart attack while climbing the roof.  He screams and utters to himself: “Get up you old sap. Time to call it a day”.  

When Henry is alone with the intruder, a local cop is dispatched to the house.  No need to guess what happens to her – the same thing when a detective or cop is dispatched (Hitchcock’s PSYCHO) to a residence when the occupant is under siege happens here.

KNUCKLEBALL suffers from an all too familiar story.  But Peterson improves this story by an engaging first third and and scary other two thirds.  Peterson’s talent is his ability to draw his audience into the story which results in a very satisfying and absorbing be it ultra-violent thriller.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nM-CpDkPOcM

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