Molly (Cecilia Milocco) has just been released from a psychiatric hospital following a personal tragedy. She gets set up in a new apartment, tenuously beginning the readjustment to normal life. When trying to sleep at night, she hears a knocking sound coming from one of the apartments above her. This happens a couple nights running, at which time Molly suspects the knocking is actually a Morse code signal for help. Combined with a few other factors, she becomes convinced that a woman is being held captive in the building.
That's the premise of Knocking, Swedish director Frida Kempff's suspenseful thriller that was part of Sundance's Midnight section. Taken solely at that level, it's a picture that offers gradually escalating tension, especially since we have to decide (at least for a while) whether we believe Molly really is hearing a cry for help or whether the noises are part of her mental illness. Either way, someone's well-being is at stake. If another woman is in danger, Molly might be the only one who can save her. If it's a delusion, Molly's recovery is more fragile than she realizes.
Knocking has a whole second level, though. Kempff is interested in the concept of men not believing women. Over the course of the story, Molly confronts different male neighbors, trying to ascertain whether they know where the knocks are coming from. In each case, her concerns are dismissed. Some are via casual “I hope you can get some sleep” sympathy, others outright attempts at gaslighting. Even the male cops who come to investigate do the absolute bare minimum, choosing to view her as a pest rather than taking her report seriously.
Melding those two levels together turns the film into something as provocative as it is hypnotic. Knocking has several implications, not the least of which is that women have to look out for one another. I don't want to make it sound like the story is an anti-male screed of some sort. Kempff hits the right balance of giving her movie substance while still keeping a strong emphasis on thrills. That said, its feminist perspective is the element that makes everything else gel.
At the center is Cecilia Milocco, giving a performance that hits a wide spectrum of emotions. The actress effectively keeps us guessing as to Molly's emotional stability. At the same time, we actively root for her not only to heal from trauma, but also to find someone who will listen to her. Milocco gives a superb turn in a picture that builds to a powerhouse ending guaranteed to have you talking about it long afterward.
Knocking is a real discovery, one offering additional proof that female directors are making some of the most engrossing, relevant horror movies out there right now.
Knocking is unrated, but contains adult language and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 16 minutes.