In Knocking, horrors need nothing more than strangers sharing apartment complex hallways. Terror is that of society’s treatment of victims and those deemed unbelievable. The sound of hits against thin unit walls becomes the nagging clue that something is not right — but reality isn’t a slasher film where easily identifiable antagonists roam (most times). Civilian hopefulness, judgment, and the disbelief in neighbors possessing the ability to become monsters is what filmmaker Frida Kempff dares to expose by adapting Johan Theorin’s source literature. It’s a modern interpretation of the boy who cried wolf, except with a blame reversal that questions general awareness when women try and voice concerns.
The uncompromising performance of Cecilia Milocco as Molly propels Knocking, who’s recovering from psychiatric care after a nervous breakdown. She moves into a new apartment and starts hearing a continual tapping against her ceiling at midnight. Molly raises attention by interrogating renters upstairs on the eighth floor — one above — and gets the police involved as nights progress. Her accusations become more aggressive as time passes with no evidence of a woman being held and abused — Molly’s claim — but she does not cease. Molly is convinced someone is in danger, and the knocks are an outreach for help. Whether she’s believed by law enforcement or not, Molly will save the woman she’s sure is dying slowly and painfully — alone, if that’s what it takes.
Emma Broström’s screenplay channels the irreconcilable grief of haunted mental health as imprisonment. Those who are hypnotized by the intimate traumatization Molly experiences in Knocking must find frights within ignorance. Molly’s presented as shaken, fearful, and alone, which outsiders perceive as untrustworthy once she starts phoning local officers at late hours. Milocco’s exasperation and exhaustion, while her character cries out for anyone to listen, is Kempff’s source of psychological tension. Molly is treated like she’s going insane — by men who do not understand a woman’s inherent paranoia about a society that often devalues these unsettling situations.
Knocking is a movie about perception and perspective, with Milocco’s performance central to Kempff’s execution successes and failures. Within Molly’s apartment confines, Milocco is at her sanest. We see the struggles of an isolated soul who jumps to “drastic” conclusions over a sound that could be faulty pipes. As Molly encounters an argumentative couple, a first responder, her generous super, and other male neighbors who shrug her late-night insistence that a woman is being held captive behind a locked door, it’s Milocco’s effusive and frustrated composure that paints Molly as an extremist to outsiders. Milocco teeters on a blade’s edge for viewers to behold and exposes society’s inability to avoid labeling others as “crazy” without comprehending the whole story. She’s deemed excessive or hysterical or having an episode when no one believes because that’s how we forever treat anyone who’s spent time recovering in a wellness facility — this is the condemning stigma Kempff best presents.
What’s less effective is the film’s dreamlike pacing, which wavers and floats through not even eighty minutes until an ending that’s a bit too thin. Knocking is identified by Molly’s sleepless nights, the rhythmic thumping against drywall and whispers through vents, or Milocco’s strong responses as a performer under emotional duress — then just ends. There’s a poetic justice to the chosen finale that culminates in a visual of flames and blood, but such a troubling and at times claustrophobically intense first two acts feels underserved by its climax. If you can even call it a climax? I’d argue there’s an entire scene missing that’d land with harsher and more lasting impact, which will be understood after a watch.
One could ponder if Frida Kempff’s Knocking might be more effective as a short film, given the title’s current structure and possible accentuation of a slighter conclusion that hits far sooner. Alternatively, others might desire further additions to fatten Knocking because of the way Kempff addresses domestic horrors. There’s a sobering dreadfulness that comes along with residential complexes as an unsafe landscape, and Cecilia Milocco passionately excels at conveying her character’s helplessness in what’s perceived as a losing battle. It’s one of those movies that’s saying all the right things and remains unwavering in its methods of challenging audiences with artistic choices — leaving more adrenaline-seeking viewers in the dust, exiting as radio narration tells us everything we need to know.