Genre : Horror-Thriller
Rating : R
Director: Michael Peterson
Looking back, it’s hard to explain just how big Home Alone was when it came out. Released in 1990, not only did it turn Macaulay Culkin into a superstar but it would be the highest grossing live action comedy for over two decades. It would not only spawn four sequels but multiple imitators with movies like Baby’s Day Out, Dennis the Menace and 3 Ninjas all trying, and failing, to catch lightning in a bottle. It wasn’t just family films that tried either. You can see glimpses of Home Alone DNA in a variety of different movies, particularly in the horror genre. With an array of death traps and home invasions scary movies like Better Watch Out, Don’t Breathe and The Collector are basically Home Alone on speed. It’s practically a horror subgenre by itself at this point adn latest to follow in the footsteps of Kevin McCallister is Henry in Knuckleball.
Due to an unexpected funeral 12-year-old Henry (Luca Villacis) is sent to stay with his grandfather Jacob (Michael Ironside). Living on a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere the two are surrounded by forest with the only person nearby being weird neighbor Dixon (Munro Chambers). Not getting along at first the two begin to bond over a shared love for baseball. Things between the two are looking up when Jacob suddenly dies. With nowhere else to turn Henry is forced to go to Dixon who has secrets of his own.
Opening with a Shining-esque overhead shots of the icy plains of Canada I knew my expectations were off. Mostly known for Canadian comedies, this is director Michael Peterson’s first feature length foray into horror. Surprising considering how good he is at building tension. With co-writer Kevin Cockle the two put together a unique take on the home invasion thriller. Instead of focusing on the horror aspects they focus more on developing our three main characters. In the first half of the film relying on mystery and the innate uncomfortableness of staying alone with a grandparent. They may be scenes we have seen before but Peterson makes them feel new again. With Knuckleball taking place in such a desolate location the movie mainly focuses on Henry, Jacob and Dixon who each bring something different to the movie.
In his first lead role young Luca Villacis is more than holds his own. Relying less on a verbose script for exposition, Villacis uses subtle mannerisms and vocal inflections to sell the situation masterfully. Little touches like Jacob insisting he touch everything and going into locked rooms are the kinds of direction that make the character feel real. It’s especially impressive to watch the young man play off of Michael Ironside. A veteran of the horror world Ironside brings the kind of tough and grizzled performance audiences have grown to love. And with that voice he could make reading the phone book intimidating. Yet behind and his rough demeanor we see a grandfather who wants to know his grandson. It’s a surprisingly touching turn for an actor best known for Scanners and Starship Troopers.
Perhaps the most impressive performance is Munro Chambers as Dixon. More known for the comedic gorefest Turbo Kid and teen drama Degrassi these roles are easily forgotten as he plays creepy neighbor Dixon. Clearly not all there he is able to go from nice (if off kilter) to a major threat at the drop of a hat. Straddling the line between insanity and over-the-top the way Chambers plays Dixon is just what Knuckleball needs.
After watching Knuckleball, I couldn’t help but think about how perfect the title was. Despite being one of the most well-known pitches in baseball it’s known for being a bit slower and unpredictable just like this movie. While the comparison to Home Alone is obvious there’s more to it than that. Instead of being a typical home invasion movie it is more a performance-based movie and all three leads deliering captivating preformances. Some predictability aside Knuckleball is a tightly wound thriller that will have you engrossed from beginning to end.