Fantasia Festival 2018 rolls on with Knuckleball, a nasty little Canadian thriller by Mike Peterson.
Let’s bitch it out…
It’s inevitable that reviews of Knuckleball will raise comparisons to Home Alone. Not unlike last year’s Fantasia Festival discovery, Better Watch Out, the playful inversion of Kevin McCallister-esque tropes makes perfect sense for a horror film. Chris Columbus mined the premise of a child fending off adult intruders for comedy, but the concept itself is inherently terrifying.
Enter Knuckleball which finds video game-oriented Henry (Luca Villacis) dropped off unceremoniously at his grandfather Jacob (Michael Ironside)’s house for the weekend while his parents squeeze in some alone time on the way to a family funeral. To say that the relationship between father and daughter Mary (Kathleen Munroe) is strained is an understatement; in short order it is revealed that Mary discovered her mother’s body after the latter committed suicide in the barn. The details of the suicide and the unusual relationship that Jacob has with creepy next door neighbour Dixon (Munro Chambers) isn’t difficult to suss out, which unfortunately lessens the impact of the second act reveal.
Still, that hardly matters when the proverbial shit hits the fan. After Jacob falls ill and Henry ventures next door to Dixon’s for help, the latter’s homicidal impulses are unleashed and Henry’s game skills come into play. At this point Knuckleball leans into its violent tendencies in a surprisingly bleak and gritty way. Unlike Home Alone, there’s nothing comedic about Henry’s fight for survival, which involves a series of staged traps in the basement that, in a nice change of pace, yield only mixed results. Unlike other horror movies where carefully laid plans nearly always succeed, the events of Knuckleball are (slightly) more realistically depicted in that some things work out, but many others don’t.
Peterson’s film works because of this fatalistic streak, as well as the film’s disarmingly simple story and its solid character work. The film relies heavily on the interplay between Henry and Dixon, which resembles a violent dance. Both actors invest deeply in their roles, which helps to sell the tension (particularly as the bodies begin to pile up). Add in a great, gruff performance by the always great Ironside and Knuckleball is a winner.
The Bottom Line: Knuckleball is a lean, mean Canadian thriller that should carve out a passionate audience when it is released in the fall. Just don’t call it Home Alone.