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Knuckleball (Movie Review)

Knuckleball (Movie Review)
6 10

PLOT: Stranded at his grandfather's house after the old man passes away, a boy has to fend for himself against a homicidal intruder.

REVIEW: Director Michael Peterson's thriller KNUCKLEBALL is such an economical film, it's a little surprising that it has so many familiar faces in its cast, as this feels like something that would have been made on a very low budget with a cast of unknowns. It certainly could have been; the plot is about as simple as something can get and still sustain a feature length, it's set almost entirely at one location, and there are only a handful of characters - and just a few of them are actually involved with the action. But while the script by Peterson and Kevin Cockle is something that could have been brought to screen on a micro budget, this one did have some Canadian cash behind it, allowing for a cast that includes veteran character actor Michael Ironside, Ironside's TURBO KID co-star Munro Chambers, Kathleen Munroe of SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD and THE VOID, Arrow's Chenier Hundal, and Krista Bridges of LAND OF THE DEAD.

Child actor Luca Villacis (who genre fans might have seen in THE MIDNIGHT MAN and/or Channel Zero) takes the lead as Henry, and the film begins with his parents (Munroe and Hundal) dropping him off at his grandfather's remote farmhouse, nestled in the snowy countryside. This is where Henry's mom Mary grew up, but she understandably doesn't like visiting it since she found her mother dead in the barn, having committed suicide due to something Mary's father Jacob (Ironside) did. Even though Mary is haunted by the mystery surrounding her mother's death, she still thinks leaving Henry with Jacob for a couple days while she and her husband go off to attend a funeral is a good idea.

So we're left to wait and wonder, what secrets is Jacob hiding? KNUCKLEBALL is one of those films where you know something is going to go terribly wrong, you've been tipped off by the fact that it's categorized as a thriller, but it's just not clear what's going to go wrong or how. Peterson takes some time before answering any questions, and this thriller takes some time before it starts to get thrilling. Until then, Henry and Jacob bond while doing some work around the snowy farmland, and Jacob helps his baseball enthusiast grandson practice his pitching skills.

During his first day on Jacob's farm, Henry also meets helpful neighbor Dixon (Chambers), who is such a creepy oddball from the moment he steps on the screen that it's obvious he's going to have something to do with the terrible things to come. You'll just have to wait until about halfway through the movie to really find out how he'll be involved with whatever bad stuff Henry will have to deal with.

The bad stuff begins when Jacob passes away during the night. After the build-up, KNUCKLEBALL is pretty much non-stop thrills for the final 40 minutes or so, as Henry is now stranded on Jacob's farm with no way to contact the outside world - his cell phone has died, he doesn't have his charger with him, and a winter storm has knocked out the landlines. As if sharing a house with his grandfather's corpse wasn't enough, Henry is soon forced to fend for himself against a relentless homicidal intruder.

KNUCKLEBALL has drawn comparisons to HOME ALONE for the way Henry deals with the killer lurking around his grandfather's house, but if you're wanting to see the film in hopes of watching a killer stumble through a series of elaborate boobytraps, you might want to temper those expectations. There are a couple scenes where Henry pulls from the Kevin McCallister playbook to defend himself and injure his attacker, but they don't take up a substantial portion of the movie. It's cool, but it goes by quick.

There is very little to this film, but by the end it has proven to be a perfectly serviceable thriller. It's got some mystery, some dead bodies and bodily harm, you get to watch some Canadian actors you've probably seen before share the screen, and Villacis turns in a sold performance as our likeable little hero. Peterson achieved a very foreboding atmosphere in the first half of the film, and the build-up is paid off with some entertaining violence in the second half.

If you've got 88 minutes to spend watching a movie, KNUCKLEBALL is a fine way to fill that time.

Extra Tidbit: Freestyle Digital Media will be giving KNUCKLEBALL a theatrical and On Demand / Digital HD release on October 5th.

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