REVIEW: KNUCKLEBALL Is A Can't Miss Perfect Horror Pairing For Winter Viewings
For horror fans, October is the most wonderful time of the year. Every October brings with it a plethora of seasonal, spooky new films to look out for and this year is no different. Only a week into my favorite month and we already have a handful of genre (and genre adjacent) films in theatres, not to mention the influx of horror content that’s dropped online and on VOD. Among these new releases is a brand new film from Canadian writer and director Michael Peterson: Knuckleball. The first horror feature from Peterson lives in the “unaccompanied minors” subgenre of horror and is reminiscent of Home Alone… if Home Alone was a horror movie.
After Henry’s parents drop him off to stay at his estranged Grandpa’s farm while they attend a funeral, 12 year old Henry (Luca Villacis) is immediately put to work on the farm and reluctantly follows orders from Grandpa Jacob (Michael Ironside). With no cell reception and no form of entertainment in sight, Henry’s boredom leads him to pitching snowballs which Grandpa Jacob quickly turns into a baseball lesson. Henry won’t be bored for long though, before he knows it, his staycation on Grandpa’s farm will turn into a fight for his life. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, Henry is left alone on the farm and he turns to his Grandpa’s neighbor, a mysterious young man named Dixon (Munro Chambers), for help. As the harsh winter weather worsens, Henry begins to unravel a dark family secret while fighting for his life against a stranger with a vendetta who will stop at nothing to exterminate Henry. Too bad for the bad guy though, because Henry seems to be a student of Kevin McCallister, dishing out an assortment of resourceful traps that just may save his life.
Although the surface concept is simple and similar to stories we’ve seen before, the execution and artistry behind Knuckleball is one of a kind. Michael Peterson crafts a horror film grounded in reality, even if the odds of a 12 year old being pursued by a murderous psychopath are pretty low. The snowy, winter setting adds an extra dreary chill to the film, and although Knuckleball isn’t associated with Christmas at all, it still makes for a perfect wintertime horror flick. In fact, I highly recommend a Home Alone/Knuckleball double feature come December. Peterson isn’t the only one who deserves kudos though, the cast is fantastic, led by child actor Luca Villacis (Channel Zero, The Midnight Man), who effortlessly carries the film. It’s common for child actors to overact (or underact), straining their way through a performance, making it difficult to watch, but that is never the case with Villacis. He nails his performance as Henry and has you cheering him on and hoping for his rescue through the final moments of the film. Opposite Villacis is Munro Chambers (Turbo Kid), who gives a relentlessly chilling performance as a man unhinged. I’ve heard Chambers is an incredibly sweet person, but I never would have guessed it from his maniacal portrayal of Dixon. I truly hope Chambers continues working in the horror genre because he was made for it. Although Grandpa Jacob’s role is cut short, Michael Ironside does some really wonderful work as the tough on the outside, sweet on the inside character. I only wish we could have seen a bit more of him, because he’s a real joy to watch. This ensemble trio is who carries the film, but it’s also worth noting that Kathleen Munroe (The Void) and Chenier Hundal (CW’s Arrow) who play Henry’s parents also give great performances, perfectly portraying the roles of stressed and worried parents. I think it says a lot when such a small cast can carry a film so well while delivering knockout performances. Sometimes with a cast so small, seeing the same faces in every scene can feel boring, but Knuckleball is miles away from boring and it’s all thanks to the talented cast and wonderful direction of Michael Peterson and his writing team, Kevin Cockle (writer) and Jordan Scott (story editor). Cinematographer Jon Thomas also deserves a nod for shooting a gorgeous film. He captured some breathtaking shots of the snow covered setting which made for the perfect juxtaposition against the horrific action taking place.
Ultimately, Knuckleball is one film you won’t want to miss, especially if you enjoy the Home Alone series or more recently, The Babysitter (2017), so catch it as soon as you can. Knuckleball is now playing in select theatres and is available for rent or purchase on Prime Video.