Knuckleball director Michael Peterson (who has written and directed a number of Canadian independent films) brings a surprisingly professional eye to an otherwise run-of-the-mill, low-budget horror movie.
Set on an isolated farm in the Canadian winter, Peterson makes the most of the setting — cold, quiet beyond reason, vivid visually contrasts between the tree line and the fields of untouched freshly fallen snow. You can kind of see your breath. Watching it on a hot September morning, I was transported by the setting.
But not by the story.
Michael Ironside is the “big get” of the picture (and, yeah, I would consider him to be without irony or derision). He plays Jacob, the curmudgeonly grandfather living on the farm who has to watch after his grandson, Henry (Luca Villacis), for the weekend so that his daughter, Mary (Kathleen Munroe), and her husband, Paul (Chenier Hundal), can go out of town. Jacob’s not great with kids, and Henry soon begins to suspect there is something off about this remote farm. Local boy Dixon (Munro Chambers) also gives him bad vibes. Makes sense. When Jacob dies and Henry finds himself stranded alone with Dixon, shit goes south.
I’ve seen two soft pitches for Knuckleball: “ ‘Home Alone’ for adults,” which it has elements of but not significantly, and “To catch a predator, you must become one,” which, given the subject matter of the movie is kinda gross.
The start of Knuckleball had me; it felt like a small-budget atmospheric cult hit. The closest that came to mind was Pontypool, another great Canadian horror that hinged on atmosphere. Nothing comes of it here. Ironside is reliably great playing the sort of role he’s played frequently in the past; Villacis is a fine kid-in-peril. But there’s just not much here. No momentum. Characters espouse and tension is sought in moments of face-to-face monologuing, but none of it lands. Lack of humor, lack of action, lack of something. It’s as empty as its gorgeous landscapes.
Knuckleball is available on VOD on October 5.