The Sundance Film Festival is finally here and one of the most anticipated genre titles is Knocking, a psychological thriller from director Frida Kempff that will have its Virtual Premiere on Friday, January 29 @ 9:00 p.m PT / 10:00 p.m. MT before repeat viewing Sunday, January 31 @ 7:00 a.m. PT / 8:00 p.m. MT.

Knocking features a standout performance by Cecilia Milocco who plays a woman (Molly) who has just experienced a traumatic incident and is unnerved by a haunting knocking sound from upstairs in her new apartment building.

“As the noises become more desperate and increasingly sound like cries for help, she confronts her neighbors, but it seems no one else can hear them. In an unsettling quest for truth, Molly soon realizes that no one believes her, and begins to question if she even believes herself – a realization that is perhaps even more chilling.”

In speaking with Bloody Disgusting ahead of this weekend’s premiere, Kempff talks about the book that inspired Knocking, the story’s complex character, and how it reflects the gaslighting of women in society.

Knocking is loosely based on a short novel called ‘Knocks’. When I read the novel it reminded me how many women are treated in our society,” explains Kempff. “It is easy to judge a woman just by her appearance. I loved the main character Molly and how complex she was. It was something very universal about it and I think we all can identify in hearing sounds from our neighbors, but what if you are the only one who can hear them and that no one believes you? That was a really scary thought for me.”

“The story also triggered me as a filmmaker; very few locations, a claustrophobic feeling, a lot of the story told in different sounds and the idea of how intense it could be,” she added.

Knocking was constructed around the main character’s mind and explored the ideas of lack of trust.

“I always start an idea of a story with the main character’s mind and from there I build the story. I like to explore the mind and what causes her to act and react. I almost never leave the main character; we are always with her, so that was clear to me from the start, I wanted to do the same in this film.”

Kempff continues: “Emma Broström (the scriptwriter) and I were interested in the theme of not being trusted and we wanted to explore different ways of showing that. We built some subplots in the first drafts but it always felt that the film was better when we stuck to the main plot. It made the story more intense. Being in Molly’s shoes all the time and really shows how gaslighting can manipulate a person into madness.

Cecilia Milocco appears in Knocking by Frida Kempff | photo by Hannes Krantz.

“Another thing we developed during the process was the flashbacks. I was very inspired by the TV series ‘Sharp Objects’ and how they worked with flashbacks – short glimpses of trauma but without unfolding the whole story to the audience.”

She adds: “It was a step on tiptoe going through the whole process, holding the balance so things aren’t too obvious or too unclear and not judge Molly like just a crazy woman, making the audience unsure of the whole film.”

The paranoia, tension, and confusion are constructed through very precise camerawork that keeps the lens solely from the perspective of Molly.

Hannes Krantz (the DOP) is very talented and the first rule we put up was to always have Molly’s perspective, never leave her,” Kempff explains. “Molly does an emotional journey through the film and the camera was going to do the same. I made a color system where green was the most healthy, normal state of mind and dark red was paranoia. We talked a lot on set about colors that reflected Molly’s/the camera’s temper. I remember on set that Hannes could call on me and ask what color the scene had. It was very effective.”

Kempff on the casting of Cecilia Milocco, who puts out an outstanding performance.

“I want the actor to be close to her feelings and to be vulnerable, and you as a director have to do the same. I think that is what you see in Cecilia’s performance – she is fearless in her acting. She understood Molly and felt trust to jump over the cliff with me. We also used the color system so that she knew the temper she needed. It was a lot of holding back until she fully could explode. The film is really a performance piece and Cecilia is carrying the film on her shoulders. It was easy to be a director when I had her.”

As for inspirations, Kempff tells me David Lynch was a major influence: “He was the one who opened the door to film for me when I was 12 and watched ‘Twin Peaks’ on TV. But other films that inspired Knocking are Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, The Tenant, Rosemary’s Baby and many of Darren Aronofsky’s works.”

Next up for Kempff is a dystopian sci-fi set in the near future called The Unit.

“This is a dream project for me and I’m hoping to shoot next year.”

Knocking is seeking distribution out of the Sundance Film Festival.

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