Based on the novella by Johan Theorin, Swedish filmmaker Frida Kempff’s unsettling debut feature Knocking (or Knackningar in Swedish, such a delicious word) which played Outfest LA 2021 on Saturday night, is a sophisticated psychological horror and a masterclass in tension, spare dialogue, and intricate sound design. At its centre is a compelling performance by Cecilia Milocco as Molly, a woman who has just been discharged after a year in a psychiatric hospital and moved into a new apartment building alone. As she stands by the window in her new home she recalls happier times with her girlfriend, a relationship we glimpse in flashback throughout the film; memories which bring some warmth to Molly’s isolated existence while underscoring her loneliness. From the film’s opening we assume that her girlfriend went for a dip in the sea and never came back.
As Molly meets the live-in building manager and some of her new neighbours something feels a little off and an uneasy atmosphere begins to build even before Molly is disturbed by nocturnal knocking and distant sounds of a woman’s cries coming from somewhere within the apartment block. As she increasingly desperately searches for the source of the knocking she’s dismissed and derided by her neighbours and soon also ignored by the police, as we as viewers question whether the sounds are a symptom of her struggles with her mental health, something which the film never demonises. We don’t see any gory physical horror, that’s left to our own imaginations as we hear the woman’s cries, instead the horror that emerges is more to do with Molly raising the alarm that a woman is being harmed only to be repudiated by her neighbours who view her as a disturbing the peace. With much of the film set within the confines of Molly’s apartment, cinematographer Hannes Krantz keeps things interesting throughout as the visual language of the film reflects the woman’s inner turmoil aided by Elle Furudahl’s gorgeously moody production design, while Milocco’s face is wonderfully expressive. With echoes of Rosemary’s Baby and Rear Window in a contemporary #MeToo world, Frida Kempff’s film is as thought-provoking as it is unnerving.
By James Kleinmann
Knocking (Knackningar) premiered at Sundance and played Outfest LA 2021 on August 14th 2021.