(Canada, 89 min.)
Dir. Michael Peterson, Writ. Michael Peterson, Kevin Cockle
Starring: Luca Villacis, Michael Ironside, Munro Chambers, Kathleen Munroe, Chenier Mundal
The appeal of children generally eludes me, but the little hellions seem to be awfully good tools to have whilst trapped in a creepy home with a maniac. Video games and movies have taught kids to be resourceful, and as the new horror-comedy Knuckleball shows, there’s at least one practical benefit to having children. Kids slay the darnedest things—at least they’re good for something.
That’s what happens when Henry (Luca Villacis) finds himself home alone at his grandfather’s creepy farmhouse after he finds his grandpa (Michael Ironside) cold and dead in bed one morning. Like a smart little puppy, Henry fetches the neighbour, Dixon (Munro Chambers), when his cell phone battery runs out of juice and he can’t connect with the parents who dumped him off at grandpa’s (R.I.P.). Henry’s parents are very trusting, even though his mother openly acknowledges that she is estranged from her father because he did something so awful, terrible, and unspeakable that it drove her mother to suicide. (A fact she hid from her husband until they left him chopping wood with the creepy old man.) Adventures in babysitting go tits up when Henry learns that Dixon is a homicidal terror and grandpa’s house is full of secrets.
To the good fortune of everyone involved except (naturally) Dixon, Henry reveals himself a regular Kevin McCallister. This little hellion is adept at crafty blood sport. Playing video games 24/7 on his smartphone teaches Henry to be resourceful as he runs around the unfamiliar house and farm. He finds weapons everywhere he looks: baseballs, nails, gasoline, knives, and other goodies to subdue, maim, burn, and butcher Dixon.
Knuckleball generally knows the field in which it’s playing and does its best to focus on character, humour, and nostalgia, rather than atmosphere and cheapo make-up effects. The story, on the other hand, never really makes sense given the ineptitude of Henry’s parents, but their naïve idiocy is a good signal that Knuckleball doesn’t take itself too seriously. Less fortunate is the utterly random/nonsensical knuckleball the film throws when Dixon turns on Henry and is fuelled by the ghost/spirit/resurrection/extremely-confusing-return of Henry’s grandfather who sort of possess Dixon…and then doesn’t. This plot point all but derails the film even if one rewinds the movie to make sense of it.
Director Michael Peterson has a lot of fun devising crafty scenarios on shoestring budgets and Knuckleball hits some splat-and-chuckle homers as Henry slices and dices the baddie who just won’t quit. At a brisk 89 minutes, the action moves quickly enough to forgive some of the plot holes and hammy acting chops that pitch around the audience. Even if it’s a swing and a (near) miss, Knuckleball might be a fun watch for Halloween horror fans, preferably while home alone.
Knuckleball opens in Toronto at the Carlton and in Ottawa at The Mayfair on Oct. 12.