Knock Knock (2018). 13:55 mins. Directed by Kennikki Jones-Jones. Featuring Shellita Boxie, Avis-Marie Barnes, Nariah Glover, Aminieli Hopson, Ariel Coleman, and Malichi Payne-Selmore.
Kennikki Jones-Jones, the writer and director of the short film Knock Knock, sets us up for a unique experience. In a world where black voices tend to be muted by other cultural perspectives and biases, Knock Knock is a refreshing addition to the gambit of great black narratives, especially in the horror genre. That’s not to say that the film should be described as a “Black” movie, but rather that Jones-Jones’s storytelling gives a very real look into her characters’ experience. I was so immersed in the story, I kept wondering what I would’ve done in their shoes. I strapped myself in the passenger seat, more than willing to go on this journey. The film brings us into the story of Sinia, played by the incredible Shellita Boxie, a caring woman who is the maternal force for the neighborhood’s children, in particular the four children who live next door. We learn instantly through some crude but hilarious dialogue that there is a possible case of neglect in their home. Jones-Jones’s ability to blend humor with such a distressing topic, combined with the excellent delivery by the cast, makes her characters and their dialogue even more relatable.
As the film comes to life, we see elementary- and middle-school-aged children playing in the street. The neighborhood looks like most densely populated urban areas—grass growing out of the sidewalk, rectangular-shaped brick houses stacked tightly in neat rows, cars parked in droves on the side of the road, all framed by a beautiful horizon of trees.
We then cut to two women and a young girl of about ten talking by the door of one of the brick houses. The scene is instantly familiar; you can tell the two women have probably known each other for a long time. It’s the middle of the day, they’re hanging out front, and one of the women is braiding the young girl’s hair. The hairdresser, whom we come to know as Sinia, is extremely affectionate with the girl’s hair. The acting is authentic and natural. We watch an intimate shot with Sinia and the girl looking in the reflection of a hand mirror together. It’s a warm moment, and through Sinia’s eyes, we see that she cares deeply about children. The girl’s mother, who is standing by Sinia’s side, follows this with some heavy critiques of the school children being outside on their own, insinuating that they are clearly not being cared for. Sinia jumps to their defense and asserts that their mother is doing the best she can.
The door from the next house a few feet over creaks open enough for us to get a glimpse into the home. There’s nothing but darkness. A yelling woman’s voice emerges, aggressively screaming for the kids to get back into the house.
The kids awkwardly rush back into the house, heads down. As they’re walking, we witness an awkward encounter between Sinia and the children as she greets them as they pass by. Tension is all over the children’s faces until we get to the younger two, who are last in line. This tension is slightly broken when the youngest lets out a smile and Sinia hands them a bag of chips to share. Again this feels familiar, like regular practices in their routine.
The story then takes us into Sinia’s home as she continues to go about her day. She hears voices coming through the wall and picks up conversations between the mother and the children next door. Sinia’s face, worried but increasingly numb, shows us that these conversations happen quite often. There is strain, but her look reassures us slightly. Unease starts to settle in, however, when the conversations fluctuate between “laughter” and a few “understandably” tough-love replies, to an audibly physically threatening situation. The soundtrack is eerie, deep, and atmospheric. Jones-Jones and composer Phillip Logan created these air-clinching moments where your listening becomes so focused that it felt as though I, as the audience, was trying to eavesdrop next door just to make sure everything is okay.
Every second felt like it could turn south…then it builds and builds, until silence.
You have to see what happens next.
Director and writer, Kennikki Jones-Jones, lists her film Knock Knock as being part of the horror genre. It is indeed a horror movie, but I would also add the category of psychological thriller because of the ways the film engages with its audience. Jones-Jones does an incredible job drawing the audience into the story. I felt connected to Sinia and her incredibly strong performance. Given that the film largely focuses on Sinia’s point of view, we don’t see a lot of the other actors on screen, but each character was believable. I had to watch the film over again immediately just to marvel at the artistic detail of the piece. Down to the sets’ continuity and design, Sean Carroll, the film’s production designer, was brilliantly meticulous.
Knock Knock is cinematically gorgeous. Credit to the director of photography, Gediyon Nigusse Yirdaw’s, great use of space. The shots are intimate, up close and emotionally driven. The lighting is subtle at first, but as the film builds, the stark use of lighting creates more definite contrast and becomes a vehicle for telling the story in ways that continually build the legitimacy of what’s going on in the film. There are so many assets that push the story that, even as I type, I still have questions about the details running through my mind. One very accurate description of this film is: worth it. Watch it. Take a second, then watch it again. Fall in love, write down some questions, and hit me up so we can talk about it. To the whole cast and crew, in all respect, I’d say: well done.
Knock Knock, you’re fantastic.
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