Demons Come Calling in Two New Horror Movies, But You May Not Want to Answer
‘Arbor Demon’ and ‘Don’t Knock Twice’ bring originality and disappointment to VOD this week.
Arbor Demon and Don’t Knock Twice are heading to VOD and limited theatrical release starting this Friday. Keep reading for our reviews of both.
First the bad news. Patrick Rea’s new horror film is not the long-awaited feature adaptation of Mad Magazine’s very funny slasher spoof from the early ‘80s, “Arbor Day.”
On the bright side though, Arbor Demon (aka Enclosure) takes a familiar setup – people in the woods find themselves targeted by evil – and does some fresh and interesting things with the tale. It’s a rough ride getting there at times, but the payoff presents a unique mythology deserving of a somewhat better film.
Dana (Fiona Dourif) and Charles (Kevin Ryan) are happily married, but while she’s ready to take things to the next level – perhaps a result of the pregnancy she’s hiding from him – he’s perfectly content staying just the way they are. The pair head into the woods for a relaxing camping trip, but in addition to odd sounds coming from the trees their first night there is interrupted by the arrival of rowdy hunters nearby. When the group of men are slaughtered in the night by an unseen assailant the young couple rescues one, a man named Sean (Jake Busey), and pull him into the safety of their nylon tent.
The creature, one we glimpse only briefly in the form of claws and dark hair, comes near the tent but won’t enter. The reason why may just hold the key to the trio’s survival.
Rea’s script, co-written with Michelle Davidson, begins with a familiar setup before opening the story up with an interesting and fresh reveal. No spoilers here, but it’s a mythology with purpose and potential that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of… if only the 80+ minutes that come before it weren’t so damn obnoxious.
The majority of the “action” occurs from inside the tent, and while Bobcat Goldthwait’s Willow Creek proved it’s possible to terrify doing just that Rea’s film isn’t nearly as capable. It feels so removed from the horror – it doesn’t help that they keep looking out the opening with binoculars – but their actions are consistently frustrating and dumb too. We stop caring about them well before we learn their fate.
We should be seeing what they see, but even when a hunter is dragged away right in front of them in bright daylight we’re only shown their bewildered expressions. Busey’s character is meant to interject more tension, but instead he’s pure filler and an obvious “wildcard” whose actions are as inevitable as the sunset.
Arbor Demon builds to an interesting end, but viewers will have checked out long before then.
Don’t Knock Twice
It only takes four minutes before a character knocks twice in Don’t Knock Twice, but lucky for them the demonic presence at the heart of the film has yet to be awakened. That comes a short while later when two teens taunt an urban legend and knock twice on the abandoned home of a woman they once accused of murder. She took her own life, but the legend states she’s more than happy to come back for yours too if given the chance.
One of the teens, Chloe (Lucy Boynton), is at a loss when her friend disappears so she heads to the last woman she wants to see for help. Jess (Katee Sackhoff) is the mother who gave Chloe up as a baby and now wants to rekindle a relationship, and the friction between them only intensifies when strange visions and events start plaguing the pair.
As with Arbor Demon above, Don’t Knock Twice is a film that front-loads the generic and banal while saving the truly interesting for the third act. This means that once again the end result is a movie that builds to something worth seeing but seems destined to go unseen because of the uninspired crawl it takes to get there.
Caradog W. James’ last feature, The Machine, is a plucky and sharp little sci-fi indie, but his shift to horror leaves that film’s brightness (both literal and metaphorical) behind. So much of this one is set in unreasonably dark and under-lit rooms – even when characters have lights on they seem intentionally muted to the point that no one could live like this – and while it’s meant to accentuate the scares it instead has the opposite effect. There’s no gradation of the dark until a “scare” appears, and while that’s damaging enough to the intended effect we’re also inundated with sound cues meant to make us jump.
This continues for a while – and for too long – before the plot finally reveals itself and the film is infused with overdue energy and mystery. A past crime enters the present, character allegiances are tested, and our protagonists are actively on the move instead of simply jumping at shadows, reflections, and those damn sound cues. It’s a shame, and not just because a certain proactive scene involving doors in the house had me close to cheering.
Performances are fine, and the film’s visual effects work more often than not. James and cinematographer Adam Frisch capture some creepily heart-racing scenes, particularly in the third act, but just as our engagement is rising with the suspense and thrills the film comes to an abrupt halt. There’s more fight to be had, but the movie simply ends on a rushed reveal and a renewed threat.
Audiences will ultimately be left unsatisfied and unmoved by Don’t Knock Twice, and while there are some strong beats here they’re few and far between.