Movies · Reviews

‘Knocking’ Offers a Tense Ride Towards Uncertainty

Is the sound you hear real, imagined, or something in between?
Bankside Films
By  · Published on January 30th, 2021

Gaslighting may not be exclusively directed towards women, but history and society continue to do their part in making them the most likely target. They’re too often not believed in matters both big and small, and while some people point out “truths” with good intentions others do so out of dismissiveness or worse. Knocking offers a short glimpse into one woman’s experience and walks a fine line between drama and genre along the way.

Molly (Cecilia Milocco) is leaving a mental hospital after a year confined within its walls, and she’s feeling okay about it. At least, that’s what she tells her doctor before heading back out into an uncertain world. She moves into a new apartment, meets a few of her neighbors — all men, all tall enough to tower over her diminutive frame — and soon starts to hear a knocking echo through her ceiling. The tenants above and around her claim not to hear the noise, but Molly’s concern grows as the knocking is joined by the soft cries of a woman seemingly in need of help. A local heat wave intensifies matters further, and with both neighbors and the police dismissive of her claims she realizes that the truth is hers and hers alone to discover. Unless, of course, it’s all in her head.

Knocking is a brief slowburn of a tale focused on one woman’s mental breakdown, and while it’s suspenseful at times and inconsistent at others, the one through line is a stellar lead performance by Milocco. Director Frida Kempff keeps her front and center from start to finish, and every emotional turn is evident on Milocco’s round, fragile face. We’re breathing her air and immediately in her corner, but intense heat and an unspoken mental history are strong arguments against what she believes to be real. That in turn leaves viewers on edge and alluringly unsure of our protagonist.

That question — is this real or in Molly’s head — is maintained through to the end (and arguably into the end credits). The film’s final moments attempt a resolution of sorts, but writers Emma Broström and Johan Theorin neglect to confirm the implication to a truly satisfying degree. Potentially worse, and depending on your reading of the film, it’s one that ends without Molly even being necessary at all. The end result would have played out the same without her involvement, and that’s a curious note to end on for a film about a woman not being taken seriously.

Knocking works hard to suggest that Molly’s mental issues remain, issues stemming from a loss hinted at in dreamlike fragments and flashbacks, and the uncertainty is what powers the film to a large degree. We’re shown things that are absolutely imagined including a suicide across the courtyard, and that’s reason enough to suspect the rest is equally false. Milocco’s performance, though, insists that we listen to her, and it’s a compelling line to walk even as common sense really never plays a part. She never thinks to record the knocking and screams on her phone, for example, and when she stumbles across some suggestively damning evidence it simply disappears in the very next scene. She does make an effort to decipher the knocking by studying Morse Code, but the results are as trustworthy as the rest.

While the payoff never quite arrives, despite a slight effort in the most tenuous of ways, Knocking‘s brief running time remains engaging thanks to Milocco and an engrossing production design and style. She’s endlessly sweaty from the heat and her own intensity, a stain on the ceiling seems to grow, and her apartment becomes a claustrophobic environment. Martin Dirkov‘s score ranges from traditional to slightly off, and it’s used smartly to help convey Molly’s state of mind as even the most mundane tasks leave her disturbed. All of it builds leading to a final fifteen minutes that push Molly and viewers up to and over the edge. To where, though, is the question that unfortunately remains.

Knocking presents a troubled woman, still in pain over the person she was unable to save, utterly consumed with helping another woman in need. Does she? I won’t say, I arguably can’t say, but even with its iffy ending the film is a reminder to listen to those around you, whether they’re close or simply sharing your space. It might just save a life.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.