14th Aug2018

Fantasia 2018: ‘Knuckleball’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Munro Chambers, Michael Ironside, Kathleen Munroe, Luca Villacis | Written by Kevin Cockle, Michael Peterson | Directed by Michael Peterson

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Somewhere in western Canada is a farmhouse. A seemingly ordinary and simple farmhouse with a seemingly nice and normal farmer named Jacob (Ironside) residing within. There would be no reason to fear this farmhouse, but for Mary (Munroe) it’s a farmhouse that harbours bad memories and a real sense of dread. Now, a family emergency forces her to drop her son Henry (Villacis) off at this farmhouse for a few days with Jacob, her father, who doesn’t know his own grandson. A love of baseball helps the two bond, but that connection is broken by the arrival of Dixon (Chambers), the creepy next-door neighbour who seems to know a lot about the farmhouse and holds a pretty mean grudge against Henry. Over the course of the next few days, Henry is going to learn a lot about family, about survival, and how to throw a good knuckleball like his life depends on it? Because it does!

They’re at it again. Well, sort of. After the filmmakers mined the plot of Home Alone for the horror film Better Watch Out, it seems writer/director Michael Peterson has been similarly inspired for Knuckleball, which takes that same “home invasion” theme and puts a horrific spin on it. This time with even nastier results… And I’m not just talking about the traps Henry uses to escape his captors clutches!

For those traps, and the general Home Alone concept, actually only makes up a very small portion of what is actually a much darker story of familial secrets and the damage they cause. Imagine all those genre films set in America’s deep south, where incest and in-breeding lead to the likes of The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre et al. and then replant that idea to Canada’s vast, cold, wintery wilderness, where secrets like that can remain that. Secrets. Well that’s essentially Knuckleball in a nutshell.

Munro Chambers, who was so, so good as the heroic protagonist in Turbo Kid, plays the complete opposite of that character here – appearing as the creepy, pedofilic neighbour who terrorises Henry. Yet whilst Chamber’s character may be the antithesis of his last, his performance is not. Early going there’s just something “off” about his performance of Dixon, Chambers playing the character with just the right amount of creepiness for the audience to realise he’s not the type of character to be trusted, But when the truth is revealed, and Dixon goes all out insane? Well Chambers really blows the rest of the cast out of the water – his performance feels so real, so terrifyingly insane, that you can’t help but feel the same sheer terror that Henry does. And the audience we know we’re only watching a movie!

With a brief run time, there’s no wasted storytelling – the audience is thrown in at the deep end in much the same way as Henry, discovering things at the same time as he does. Which helps tremendously to both build tension and create empathy, making the audience truly invest in Henry and his predicament; and ultimately taking this twisted journey with him.

**** 4/5

A grim trip into the wintery Canadian wilderness, Knuckleball screened at Fantasia 2018 on July 21st.

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