We’ve officially reached the mid-point of summer – a dead space usually for horror movies. Most of the big prestige releases – Insidious: The Red Door and The Boogeyman – have already been released. And the dog days of summer where studios occasionally drop late summer horror hits, like The Meg and its upcoming sequel, are yet to come. But there’s still plenty of smaller horror movies popping up on VOD platforms. Just out this week, Natty Knocks features a nostalgic all-star horror cast of Danielle Harris, Robert Englund, and Bill Moseley. So far this is an under-the-radar release with little incoming buzz.
Years ago, washed up B-movie actress Natty Knocks, working as a prostitute, incurs the wrath of the local wives. Convinced she’s a witch possessing their husbands, the women burn Natty alive. Now Natty is a ghost story for local teens – an excuse to play a prank on unsuspecting homeowners called ‘Natty Knocks’, a version of nicky nicky nine doors. But when one of these pranks catches the attention of a serial killer, a local babysitter and the children under her care learn that the legend of Natty Knocks hides a very real danger.
Natty Knocks Benefit – For At Least A While – From an Unconventional Narrative
No one will accuse Natty Knocks of being a straightforward or derivative horror movie. Even the synopsis available in most of the promotional materials teases a few different directions. Writer Benjamin Olson has crafted a movie that weaves together bits of serial killer, supernatural, and gateway horror into what’s an admittedly strange viewing experience. Yet a big part of what drives interest in what’s happening on screen for about two-thirds of this movie is the story itself. Though it doesn’t necessarily twist and turn, Natty Knocks lays out its mythology bit by bit leaving you wondering what is really going on right up to the climax.
Yet a big part of what drives interest in what’s happening on screen for about two-thirds of this movie is the story itself.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the story entirely works. To his credit, Olson rarely takes the conventional with his storytelling and avoids lazy tropes. Nevertheless, Natty Knocks suffers from a few problems including underdeveloped ideas and dangling premises left unexplored. When Natty Knocks immerses itself in mystery it’s often intriguing or, at the very least curious. But once more of the story unfolds, there’s a few gaping holes that will beg questions from audiences. In fact, as the story reaches the third act, there are a handful of plot points that don’t make much sense. Much of the movie’s supernatural bits feel very underdeveloped.
Natty Knocks Benefits from Horror Veterans and Likable Performances From Its Young Cast
In spite of a story filled with good ideas, Natty Knocks rarely fires on all cylinders in large part due to a pedestrian effort from director Dwight H. Little (Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers). From a technical perspective, Natty Knocks looks good – it’s not a theatrical release, but hardly looks like a cheap production. And Little’s role between the camera is at least workmanlike. Among his credits, Little did direct Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers, which has its fans. Much like that sequel, however, Little struggles to craft actual scares – there’s a scarcity of jumps and a complete absence of atmosphere. Moreover, Little just doesn’t seem to understand how to set up the more slasher-oriented violence. Pacing also becomes something of a problem as Natty Knocks often lurches forward in sporadic bursts.
…Little struggles to craft actual scares – there’s a scarcity of jumps and a complete absence of atmosphere.
Arguably, the characters and cast are the best part of Natty Knocks. Yes, a handful of horror movie legends turn up in supporting roles. Danielle Harris (Rob Zombie’s Halloween), Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Behind the Mask), and Bill Moseley (House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects) turn up in key roles. But it’s the younger, less familiar, cast who carry this horror movie. It helps that Olson’s screenplay never locks the cast into lazy tropes. Even Noen Perez’s trouble-making best friend and Amit Sarin’s ‘mom’s boyfriend’ avoid stereotypes. Still it’s the dynamics between the central cast – Charlotte Fountain-Jardim, Thomas Robie, and Channah Zeitun – that gives this horror movie a surprising amount of heart.
Natty Knocks Can’t Bring Several Good Elements Together Into a Good Movie
Somewhere in Natty Knocks is a hell of a good movie. Likable central characters and good performances across the board are here. And Benjamin Olson’s screenplay boasts several neat ideas and rarely settles for the conventional. But Little can’t bring all these elements together to make a convincingly good horror movie. Whether it’s the choppy pacing, lack of scares, or tonal inconsistencies, Natty Knocks feels like a missed opportunity. There’s too many positive elements to cast this one aside and label it a ‘bad’ movie. Nevertheless, it falls short of warranting a full-hearted recommendation.