Suffocating Thriller 'Knocking' Turns Up the Heat Directed by Frida Kempff
Starring Çecilia Miloccco, Albin Grenholm, Alexander Salzberger, Krister Kern, Ville Virtanen, Charlotta Åkerblom, Naida Ragimova
Published Oct 22, 2021Heat so overbearing you could drown in it — it's liable to make a person go mad. The gleam of sweat on a forehead, a steadily intensifying passion, anger, paranoia, flowing ever greater as the temperatures rise. Tennessee Williams explored flaming sensuality and anger in heat, while Alfred Hitchcock explored the violence it can give rise to in the voyeuristic Rear Window. With Knocking, director Frida Kempff combines these ideas and gives them a feminist twist to explore the minutiae of a private life as it collapses under an intense heat, which personifies the weight of the male gaze and patriarchy's ability to ravage a life. Heat is powerful and rich, Kempff seems to say in this thriller, turning it into a veritable monster: a looming, suffocating, ever-present terror that makes protagonist Molly (Çecilia Milocco) lose an already-lost mind.
The film begins with the start of a heatwave and Molly leaving a psychiatric institution. It's been a year since Molly had a guilt-induced breakdown because her girlfriend, Judith, died in a drowning accident at the beach, all as Molly slept unawares on the shore. She moves into a small apartment in a building where all her neighbours seem to be men. As she is settling into her new home, unpacking her various things, which endlessly remind her of Judith, she starts hearing a knocking coming from somewhere above her. At first Molly thinks the knocking might be something innocuous, such as construction, but as she begins to investigate, as she questions her neighbours, she suspects that a woman is trapped somewhere in her building. The only thing keeping Molly from helping is the fact that none of the men, not even the police, believe her. Kempff takes us on a wild ride as we follow Molly desperately trying to help in a way she couldn't help Judith, all the while having us question Molly's sanity.
Milocco's Molly is endlessly beguiling and layered and brimming deliciously with contradictions; she is at once heartbreakingly fragile and gutsy. She seems shy, but really, Molly is uninterested in anything other than her inner world, which contains the memories of Judith that she replays as she looks at old pictures on Facebook, and as she puts on the dresses she wore when she was happy. Molly is supposed to have recovered and regained her independence after her breakdown, and the film begins with Molly grasping at strands of normalcy and carefully learning how she can go about knitting together the fabric of healthy everyday life. This is an amazing character to hinge a thriller on. There is this one scene that's a perfect encapsulation of Molly's outward efforts and inner turmoil: it's night, hot, Molly puts on makeup, curls her hair, wears a beautiful dress, and gets drunk, dancing to a romantic song. She's alone and she smiles, stuck in her head. It's this interiority that makes this character so rich and compelling to watch, and all the more devastating as she becomes haunted and tormented and gaslit by the men around her.
Punctuating Molly's efforts is the damned knocking and the faces of men everywhere, none of whom believe her — these simultaneously drive her out of her mind and send her reeling back into it. The knocking comes surreptitiously, pulling her to reality just as she's falling asleep, just as she's about to find some respite from the heat. Heat and the colour red envelope Molly, colouring her cheeks and driving her to frenzy sooner than she would have without them.
Much of the movie takes place in Molly's increasingly darkening apartment, whose corners become corroded by shadows as the knocking grows more sinister. One would think that the night would relieve the burden of the heat, but it doesn't, and as the knocking persists, so too does the heat, the sheen on the foreheads of the men Molly interrogates. Heat works as a lubricant in Knocking that sweats out insanity and impatience, placing them in front of the fragile Molly. Kempff uses Molly's antsy perspective, through kinetic cinematography that narrows in on her face, to take what Hitchcock showed us with Rear Window to another level by raising the stakes — it's not a witnessing of a man who's witnessing the cover-up of a murder, but rather a crawling into the female witness's mind, one who's in the midst of losing literally everything as she fights mightily to save another woman who is potentially being murdered, knocking to beg for help.
Kempff and Milocco make Knocking a creepy and compelling film that piles on the terror through the discomfiting knocking and the arrogance of men, heightening all these to a peak by a heat that sticks like a wetsuit. Through the knocking, through the faces of men showing up around every corner, Kempff depicts an unwavering intimation of violence, the potential for death when the heat gets too intense. What makes Knocking such a good and hopeful thriller is that, despite all the creepiness and the unrelenting gaslighting, it's a story about survival: Molly maintains her strength, her bravery. The beginning scene with Judith could only be quashed and blunted by a lack of heat, and by sleep. (Yellow Veil Pictures)