FANTASIA-KNUCKLEBALL is more than just a gritty and dark HOME ALONE
DIRECTOR: Michael Peterson
WRITER: Kevin Cockle, Michael Peterson
CAST: Munro Chambers, Michael Ironside, Kathleen Munroe, Luca Villacis
A boy is dropped off at his grandfather’s farm, in Western Canada, as his parents attend a funeral– But things soon take a drastic turn when he finds himself alone and in dire need to fend for his life… while discovering some dark secrets in the process.
You’ll find KNUCKLEBALL is often being compared to HOME ALONE… and that would be a dead on comparison if HOME ALONE was a gritty thriller with corpses, dark secrets, creepy child predators, dead dogs, burning flesh, lots of blood, and an intense third act that leaves you stressed out and disturbed.
KNUCKLEBALL is easily one of my favourite finds at FANTASIA FEST, expertly crafted by Michael Peterson. It’s a wildly, entertaining, dark thrillride that keeps you on the edge of your seat, constantly twisting things around without insulting your intelligence. It keeps amping up and taking turns you don’t expect, never dumbing down or over explaining things.
Everything is carefully set up without being too obvious. The characters are introduced early on giving us just enough information to keep us interested but wanting to know more. The flow and pacing is pitch perfect, and the film never feels long. It’s done before you know it. I went in expecting a rural HOME ALONE, and I left having seen something quite different, and at times, quite gut wrenching.
There’s a solemn atmosphere in the rural winter covered setting. The Snowy locale adds to that sense of isolation. Being hunted in the middle of nowhere is one thing… Being hunted in a snowy backdrops just heightens that feeling of desperation. You want to see the protagonist triumph.
A lot of the success of the film has to do with the stand out performances by the exceptional cast playing off each other at various times like a power trio.
LUKA VILLACIS is an absolute gem. He plays a typical, yet very clever, kid that doesn’t want to spend the week working on the farm with his old grandfather, he’d rather just play his videogames or pitch baseballs. He eventually forms a bond with the old man, but pretty soon his world is turned upside down and his fight or flight instincts kicks in. The boy finds himself in a life or death situation where he uses his smarts to create Rube Goldberg-esque traps to outwit his attacker. VILLACIS exhibits all range of emotion from fear, frustration, to sheer determination to live. At the premiere, he mentioned that he prepped for the roll by watching THE REVENANT over and over, and that kind of intense energy rings through.
MICHAEL IRONSIDE is spectacular in the brief time we see him, yet his presence is felt throughout. He sets the tone as the tough as nails, but loving, grandpa, yet you sense there’s a mystery there. There’s a past. Something Dark. Once that particular balloon of secrets is burst, you reevaluate everything you’ve seen. Ironside delivers one of his career’s most intense performances in this roll. His charisma instantly fills a room, and that’s no different on screen. The chemistry he has on screen with both VILLACIS and CHAMBERS is simply magical, each bringing a different dynamic and different kind of bond. He says so much without even saying much at all. He’s very much the driving voice of this film.
On the topic of the other lead, the fact that MUNRO CHAMBERS is the same guy from TURBO KID completely took me off guard, just based on how completely different he is in this film. He looks different. He feels different. It’s absolutely night and day. That’s a testament to what range CHAMBERS has. He’s not a protagonist in this one, but rather the villain. A “helpful” neighbour that clearly has another agenda. CHAMBERS is absolutely creeptastic in this one from the getgo, yet you know there’s something he’s keeping from you, and a reasoning behind his warped state. He’s more than a run of the mill villain. He’s got layers and nuances to him. He’s downright scary and absolutely makes your skin crawl.
VILLACIS and CHAMBERS play well off each other as well. The realism of the intense scenes are sometimes uncomfortable to watch, yet the emotions on screen are very believable. They both talked about the need of trust between the actors in a film like this. Constantly balancing that dance of trust. Watching that balance is what makes this film so damn compelling. It’s very much a cat and mouse chase that keeps shifting around.
This film isn’t just another survival horror film. It’s about so many things. There’s a lot more to the film than meets the eye. IRONSIDE summed it up as “breakdown of communication within a family”. Which makes a whole lot of sense once you watch it. It’s also about secrets and survival instinct. Survival of life. Getting through it and dealing with trauma.
Uncomfortable to watch at times, with a final act that really shakes you, KNUCKLEBALL is must see cinema. You think you know here it’s going, but it does something else. It’s has smarts in addition to awesome bits of suspense, action, and gore. It’s the kind of thriller that stays with you. Easily one of the best in Canadian Horror.
Knuckleball hits theatres in Fall through Raven Banner entertainment.