The Movie Waffler IFI Horrorthon 2018 Review - KNUCKLEBALL | The Movie Waffler

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IFI Horrorthon 2018 Review - KNUCKLEBALL

knuckleball review
A young boy fights for his life when his grandfather's neighbour turns homicidal.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Peterson

Starring: Michael Ironside, Munro Chambers, Luca Villacis, Kathleen Munroe, Chenier Hundal

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I love horror. It's my favourite genre. That said, sometimes I come away from a horror movie thinking "That would have been a lot better if it wasn't a horror movie." This year for example I felt Hereditary would have profitted from ditching its supernatural elements and playing it straight as a family drama about grief, and similarly, I was enjoying Overlord a lot more as a war movie than as the horror movie it morphs into.

knuckleball review

Director Michael Peterson's Canadian indie Knuckleball is another case in point. The first half of the movie is a charming drama about finding a connection across generations, while its second half is a generic and somewhat distasteful psycho thriller.

12-year-old Henry (Luca Villacis) is dropped off by his parents for a weekend stay at the remote rural home of his maternal grandfather, Jacob (Canadian national treasure Michael Ironside). If you look up "gruff" in a Canadian-English dictionary you'll be greeted with a picture of Ironside, and the actor has only grown more intimidating over the decades. The prospect of spending a weekend in his home is enough to terrify most adults, so you can empathise with Henry's trepidation.

knuckleball review

After roping his grandson into some manual labour, Mr. Miyagi style, Jacob takes time out to give the boy some baseball pitching tips, and the pair find a bond through their mutual love of the sport. The movie develops into an endearing drama as Jacob warms to the idea of having his grandson around (his relationship with Henry's mother is estranged, as she blames him for leading her mother to suicide). We get to see another side of Ironside the actor and he delivers a lovely little speech regarding his outlook on life - "Everything breaks down, but you fix what you can."

I could have happily watched 90 minutes of Ironside imparting such old-timer wisdom on his naive grandson, but midway through, things take a twist with the arrival of Jacob's neighbour, Dixon (Munro Chambers), a twitchy young man with an ambiguous relationship to Jacob. The movie subsequently switches from a tender family drama to a survival thriller as Dixon stalks Henry, who rather improbably rigs up his grandfather's house with an array of Home Alone style traps, though nothing in the film had previously suggested he possessed such survivalist know-how. Dixon's intentions towards the boy aren't limited to murder, which adds an unnecessary element of bad taste to the narrative. Things get muddled with a timeline that doesn't make sense - Henry's parents flight is delayed but they reach Jacob's home not much later than the local cop they called before they left - and I'm still not sure what view of Jacob we're supposed to come away with.

knuckleball review

Home Alone was heavily inspired by the 1989 French horror movie 3615 code Père Noël, so it's no surprise that the dragon is eating its tail in recent years with several movies that play like genre takes on John Hughes' festive favourite. It's a difficult trick to pull off, because placing children in such peril can be offputting to many viewers. Last year's Better Watch Out pulled it off successfully by making both the protagonists and antagonists children, but Knuckleball's climactic showdown feels like it's exploiting a taboo for cheap thrills. If you fancy a great but brief family drama, check it out up until a certain twist. You'll know it when you see it.


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