Filmmakers have knocked plenty more than two times when it comes to traversing the same routine stomping ground which "Don't Knock Twice" covers. The story of a deceased witch whose demonic spirit latches onto anyone who dares come calling is, with minor variations, the same basic setup as 1992's "Candyman," 1998's "Ringu" (and its American remake, 2002's "The Ring
"), 2016's "Lights Out
," and 2017's "The Bye Bye Man
." Director Caradog James (2014's "The Machine
") and screenwriters Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler aren't in danger of winning awards for originality anytime soon, but they do perch on the cusp of making this material work all the same. Regrettably, every idea within and even the mother-daughter relationship at its core are simply too undernourished and half-baked. If individual moments are effective on their own, the whole is irksomely unsatisfying.
Nine years after giving her daughter up for adoption, recovering ex-addict Jess (Katee Sackhoff) would very much like for the now-teenaged Chloe (Lucy Boynton) to be a part of her life. Chloe is understandably bitter, but she changes her tune after knocking twice on the door of deceased local legend and alleged murderess Mary Aminov (Javier Botet). When boyfriend Danny (Jordan Bolger) falls victim to the supernatural specter and Chloe becomes her next target, she seeks shelter with Jess and her new husband Ben (Richard Mylan). No matter where Chloe turns, however, there is no escape. The door between Hell and the living world has been opened, and she has now been marked as Mary's slave.
"Don't Knock Twice" opens as a character drama between an estranged parent and child, then loses all sight of their broken relationship and strengthening bond once Chloe becomes cursed by malevolent hag Mary Aminov. Sure, if this situation were real, Jess and Chloe might not have exorbitant downtime to reconnect or deal with the troubled past which tore them apart, but director Caradog James seems especially disinterested in treating his protagonists as people rather than horror-movie pawns. Katee Sackhoff (2014's "Oculus
") and Lucy Boynton (fresh off a breakthrough performance in 2016's "Sing Street
") are at the mercy of hamstrung shock theatrics, but there are, at least, a handful of scenes of ominous inspiration. Javier Botet (2016's "The Conjuring 2
"), the go-to actor for playing tall, ghoulish, rail-thin villains, adds another notch to his deliciously creepy belt as the otherwise weakly developed Mary, lurking in backgrounds and crawling out of shadows on cue.
Javier Botet and his co-stars (particularly Lucy Boynton, as Chloe) are better than this material, which rarely surprises and goes nowhere special before petering out. "Don't Knock Twice" has a vague but enticing fairy-tale aesthetic right down to a climactic scene set in a woodsy underground lair (the film was lensed in Wales, and is atmospherically shot by Adam Frisch), but, like every other aspect of the narrative, it falls short of reaching its potential. The picture ends up in a state of flux, not doing anything wrong enough to be bad but not fully realized enough to be more than a missed opportunity.