Knocking (Sundance 2021) review – stunning portrayal of gaslighting in response to fragility

By Alix Turner
Published: January 30, 2021 (Last updated: December 16, 2023)
Knocking (Sundance 2021) review – stunning portrayal of gaslighting in response to fragility


Tense Swedish psychological horror about a woman alone who is convinced someone in her building is in trouble, but how can she help if no-one will listen to her?

In Knocking, we meet Molly (Cecilia Milocco), a regular everyday person in her late forties, just like any one of us. She has known both the warmth of love and more recently the pain of trauma, and having spent some time recovering with the help of professionals, she is ready for a new start. When Molly moves into a new apartment in a large suburban block, she does what she can to make it feel like home; not something she’s used to doing on her own. It’s impossible to relax though, because there are noises from the floor above, as though someone is knocking on their floor, on her ceiling. No-one else is aware of it, and no-one believes her.

Director Frida Kempff follows Molly with patience and compassion: Knocking is all about her, and shown from her point of view. This means that the incident she’s moving forward from is not shown explicitly, rather we just see the aspects that she cannot help remembering. We meet some of Molly’s neighbours, but only as far as she does; we see the annoyance and wariness that she sees, and we do not see any farther behind their doors than she does. The daily knocking noise wears at her, and as it increasingly shows, people – neighbours and police alike – believe her even less. It must be hard to stay sane when you’re treated as though you’re not.

Milocco is absolutely remarkable in this role. She occupies every frame, and the camera somehow observes every angle; from above, from below her chin, focusing on one finger or her hair. Hannes Krantz reflects her every mood, swaying as she dances, and spinning as she loses her sense of control. Milocco’s stirring performance demonstrates perfectly how unnerving it can be to step tentatively into a solo life for the first time. Molly is hyper-aware of possible trouble around her, compassionate person as she is, and possibly as an unconscious hook to connecting with others. It’s unnerving just how easy it is to relate to her.

Far too often, films centred on women focus on their victimhood; and of course on their physical appearances too. Knocking takes a refreshingly different approach. Written by Emma Broström, based on a novel by Johan Theorin, this film instead acknowledges that women’s concerns can be easily dismissed based on their moods, their background, or their expression. Knocking isn’t about a victim of crime, but someone who may be witness to one; and again, that could be any one of us.

Like last year’s The Swerve, Knocking observes the slow unravelling of a central suburban woman due to factors surrounding her. The pace is equally considered, and the ending just as apt, though the tone and the individual concerned are utterly different. The world premiere is at the Sundance Film Festival, and it will be coming to Europe soon after.

Movie Reviews