Director: Michael Peterson
Cast: Luca Villacis, Munro Chambers, Michael Ironside, Kathleen Munroe, Chenier Hundal
Somewhere in western Canada is a farmhouse. A seemingly ordinary and simple farmhouse with a seemingly nice and normal farmer named Jacob residing within. There would be no reason to fear this farmhouse, but for Mary 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 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 , 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. – Fantasia Festival
Set in the isolated Western Canada landscape, Knuckleball captures the lonely rural area setting perfect for this film’s sense of survival and gritty secrets. It has been exciting times in recent years to see how filmmakers take the Home Alone formula and give it an imaginative dark twist. Just like last year’s Better Watch Out, what starts off with ideas of a young kid trying to find clever ways to defend and survive through the night takes a wildly different and dangerous tone as the story and secrets unfold. There is a great craft here by director and co-writer Michael Peterson in the way he tells this story, skillfully taking the time to slowly not only drop hints but give pieces of this dark puzzle so the audience is kept guessing and invested in this thriller. What propels and builds each scene is also the score here which has its subtle moments and creates these sounds that match with the environment and helps build tension.
Knuckleball has a small and tight cast which works in its favor. There are some incredible young talent here. The first is the young boy sent to this farm, Henry played by Luca Villacis who excels in making the gritty survival elements truly shine in a convincing way. Unlike a lot of children in films, he is worthy of the audience to cheer for his survival. The film is primarily in his point of view and therefore as the story unfolds, his surprises are also ours. Not to mention, Henry is clever and resourceful but still has those moments when his judgement puts him in a undesirable situation. Playing opposite him is a troubled young man and weird neighbor Dixon played by Munro Chambers who has so much depth to his characters. As we see his character truly unveil one layer at a time, there is a great depth to him even though he is violently pursuing Henry. The game that he plays as he hunts and Henry tries to survive is filled with tension. It is engaging and smart. In the supporting role playing as the grandfather Jacob is Michael Ironside. While his character dies fairly quickly, his presence in the film is undeniable because of the influence his character has over Henry and Dixon. It’s these intertwined relationships and the story about family and upbringing and how each character interprets life that truly brings in that extra depth.
If we are to talk about presence and characters, the house is a character in itself. The real house has 100 years of history and this aspect is amplified in the scenes from the massive isolate land surrounded by trees to to the nooks and crannies that Henry crawls between to escape from Dixon. The house is utilized so well as the scenes move from one part of the house to the next. There are school buses on the land and a rusted barnhouse further away. Everything feels like it has a purpose and builds on the uneasy feeling that Knuckleball aims to deliver.
Knuckleball is a real treat. The movie comes together in a gritty effective way and while its a horror thriller that will keep you at the edge of your seat, its core is about more than that. Packed with great characters and an even more powerful setting, its a movie that you shouldn’t miss.
This post was also on That Moment In.