Fantasia 2018: KNUCKLEBALL’s Punch is Almost Felt

A flawed, if admirable, genre piece

A visit to grandpa’s house rarely looked scarier. At least that’s the impression audiences leave with by the time the end credits roll on Knuckleball, writer/director Michael Peterson’s winter-set thriller premiering at Fantasia 2018. When his parents have to go to a funeral out of town, young Henry (Lucas Villacis) must spend a few days with his estranged grandfather Jacob (Michael Ironside). Tough, gruff and obviously full of secrets, Jacob’s demeanor fills Lucas with fear as he’s put to work completing chores on the isolated farm. Soon though, Jacob begins to ease up on the his young grandson a bit and Lucas begins to form a kinship with the old man. When Lucas finds his grandfather suddenly dead in his sleep one morning, he panics. Unable to contact anyone due to having no phone, Lucas turns to his grandfather’s mysterious neighbor Dixon (Munro Chambers) for help. However, Lucas soon begins to suspect that he’s in greater danger than he knows.

It’s pretty obvious what Knuckleball was going for in terms of approach and overall intent. The film aims to be a psycho killer cat-and-mouse-like thriller with a dark familial subtext. Sadly the film doesn’t fulfill its potential in either of those two plot realms mainly because we never get to fully delve into the whole backstory behind the dark family secrets and the monster at the heart of them. I’m sure the filmmakers wanted to protect the details of the film’s plot for a huge reveal later on, but even that falls apart when the revelations are unceremoniously presented via a minor character, robbing Knuckleball of the kind spectacular ending fans of the genre love. Because so much is kept from the audience, there is also an abridged feeling about the film which it never overcomes, inevitably effecting the tone, not to mention its tension.

At the risk of knocking Knuckleball completely to the ground, it should be noted that the film does have some very strong factors working in its favor. For one, the film captures a career best performance from Ironside, who expertly plays Jacob as a man living with the ghosts of his past that still haunt him in the present. Knuckleball also benefits from the a genuinely creepy boogeyman. Radiating menace and possessing enough terrifying quality to make audiences jump, Dixon’s unhinged nature is just the kind of antagonist this movie needs. The film should also be applauded for not shying away from the gore factor. While not Saw-level, Knuckleball does indeed take no prisoners where its violence is concerned, showing its makers to be well-versed in this area of the genre (even giving a slight tip of the hat to the classic Suspiria). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Peterson skillfully nails the maddening fear that comes from being isolated in a snow covered landscape with no help in sight. Much like Misery and The Shining, Knuckleball greatest virtue is its ability to hone in on those feelings of desperation and isolation, as well as the sense of not knowing what is out there and not being able to hide from it.

Previous post Fantasia 2018: LIFECHANGER Blends Sci-Fi Thrills and Human Longing
Next post Fantasia 2018: LOI BAO is Not The Vietnamese FACE/OFF I Wanted