Knuckleball Impresses with Top-Notch Thrills
written by Dan Lee
Michael Peterson’s thriller, Knuckleball, starts out with all the warmth, charm, and promise of a coming-of-age tale about a boy, his grandfather, and their mutual love for baseball. That warmth fades fast into a completely unhinged fight for survival against a deranged murderer with an axe to grind.
Knuckleball finds Henry (Luca Villacis) staying with his reclusive grandfather, Jacob (Michael Ironside), as his parents go on a hastily planned trip out of town. Jacob is a gruff, no-nonsense sort of man harboring secrets. Jacob’s interaction with a strange neighbor named Dixon (Munro Chambers) seems to be the biggest secret of all. On the first morning there, Henry brings breakfast to his grandfather only to find the man has passed away in his sleep. The mysterious neighbor, Dixon, comes to the boy's aid but it's quickly apparent that he's harboring his own dark secrets.
Knuckleball has all the elements of a good thriller — from its pacing and gradual character development to the all out terror of a lunatic stalking a little boy. It’s tempting to compare it to a psychotic version of Home Alone but that wouldn't do the film justice. There are nuanced layers of storytelling at work in this narrative as we watch a boy already traumatized by the sudden loss of his grandfather, isolated at a farm in the middle of nowhere, have to take up arms to defend himself against a grown man.
The lighting, music, and cinematography are phenomenal in Knuckleball, with scenes that sweep out across the snow-covered fields surrounding the old farm house mixed with painfully tight shots of crazed glances. The shots of blood freezing into the cold ground — red on white beneath pale moonlight — are especially visceral. This film will keep you on the edge of your seat.
"You can be totally safe and happy and, then, something happens," Henry’s mother, Mary (Kathleen Munroe), says to her husband about her own mother’s death. This one line hits at the heart of the film’s ability to seamlessly change its tonal gears. Add to that the performances by Villacis and Chambers, the high-pressure dynamic the two share as they battle to survive against each other, and Knuckleball is a film that will keep audiences riveted until the credits roll.