They Come Knocking Review

(Blumhouse Television and Hulu have partnered for a monthly horror anthology series titled Into The Dark, set to release a full holiday-themed feature the first Friday of every month. Horror anthology expert Matt Donato will be tackling the series one-by-one, stacking up the entries as they become streamable.)

Hulu and Blumhouse’s Into The Dark series has, as critics and audiences seem to agree, somewhat of a “sustainability” problem per episode. November’s Flesh & Blood and October’s The Body might fare better at a tight sixty minutes, but drawn out between eighty and ninety minutes, feature lengths do no favors. Adam Mason’s They Come Knocking, alternatively, is a meatier, more complete tale of Father’s Day and folklore. Every minute feels earned, as sympathetic notes of grief tie into a larger supernatural story centering around the “Black Eyed Kids” urban legend spoken around campfires.

Anthony Scott Burns may have cornered the market on Father’s Day horror with his haunting Holidays segment, but Into The Dark follows with a strong counterpunch of compassionate storytelling and creepy-as-hell kiddo horrors.

Clayne Crawford stars as Nathan, a single father doing his best after the passing of his ill wife. In an attempt to honor Val’s (Robyn Lively) memory, Nathan hits the road with daughters Maggie (Lia McHugh) and Clair (Josephine Langford). Their destination? An isolated patch of desert where Nathan once proposed to Val, and where they’ll scatter her ashes (contained in a red wine bottle). There’s not much to do in Nowheresville, until night falls and someone knocks on their RV. “Please will you open the door,” a girl in a black hooded sweatshirt asks. Nathan does not, the child and her similarly dressed clan disperses, but their visits have only just begun.

Upon first impressions, They Come Knocking plays like all of Into The Dark’s straightforward entries. Maggie is quick to tell Nathan (out of nowhere) how she doesn’t want him to die. “Everything will be fine,” assures the now single papa. Not that he *does* die, just a commentary on “everything will be fine” lines right before everything is so very *not* fine. Follow that up with Clair’s teenage angst, a removal of cellphone service from the picture, and some post-production audio that doesn’t always match monster roars to advancing “Black Eyed” children. We know how this story goes – secluded family in the woods hunted by a local folktale, The Hills Have Eyes style – and few points are awarded for shock value.

Fortunately, Mr. Mason focuses on elevating the expected and overshadowing relative generics.

Grief, in all its stages, defines the personalities of Nathan and his kin. Maggie, the youngest, crafts handmade dolls including one of her mother that she always keeps within reach. Clair would rather ignore reality and lock herself away without Nathan or Maggie to remind of Val’s untimely death. Nathan must remain strong, but clutches onto his wife’s corked remains much like Maggie’s plaything. Where Into The Dark typically fails characters with development traded for baseline scares, They Come Knocking succeeds in following a family unit through the inexplicability of loss. Quite a touching battle against unexplained tormentors hinged on the most human pains one could experience through bedridden flashbacks and conjured hallucinations alike.

Enter the “Black Eyed Children,” who are essentially dead-faced orphans wearing baggy hoodies and move in packs. They pop into windows when Nathan’s peering out, or gaze through fan vents, or lurk and giggle with inherent unease under dim moonlight shading. Psychological terror pairs with animal-like attacking lunges, given how these children of the night will prey upon your buried weaknesses such as Maggie convincing herself mommy is still alive. They Come Knocking never becomes action-heavy or gruesome sans one or two quick shots, remaining more about the horrors of watching a loved one die. Being left to parent alone, witnessing innocence wither away. Mason’s inhuman children are here to evoke sadness and bring upon closure, but still manage a few solid creeps while howling vicious screams nonetheless.

The Come Knocking is a surprisingly tender Into The Dark feature, and proof that the streaming format can withstand theatrical length running times. Not quite perfect given how some of the “meaner” “Black Eyed Children” material never gets violently savage, but again, Adam Mason ensures chills do not detract from emotional processing of the utmost complication. I’m still waiting to be horrified beyond comfort, but in the meantime, I’ll take rich genre storytelling worth character dissections and emotional payoffs.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10

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