Knuckleball is an upcoming thriller directed by Michael Peterson and stars Munro Chambers, Michael Ironside, Luca Villacis, Kathleen Munroe, Drew Nelson and Krista Bridges. Raven Banner will release the film in theaters beginning September 28, 2018.
A 12-year-old boy becomes the center of a maelstrom of terror when his grandfather dies suddenly on an isolated farm.
Director Michael Peterson has channelled the fear we all have as parents where there may come a day when we aren’t there to protect our children from danger and it is MORE than uncomfortable. If you thought THE VISIT was a bad weekend at the grandparents’ house, then you haven’t seen Knuckleball. This is Canada’s answer to Cape Fear, a thriller in which the protagonist is a 12 year old boy who is constantly thrust into the most horrifying and deadliest of situations. Whereas most movie fans are used to seeing a woman in this leading role as opposed to a young boy, Knuckleball pulls no punches when it comes to the gut-wrenching realism of what evil human beings are capable of and that it doesn’t matter all that much to them who their victim is in the end.
Munro Chambers… The badass post-apocalyptic wasteland Mega Man hero himself from Turbo Kid, portrays the villain in Knuckleball. The reason why I compare this little independent slice of Canadian madness to a film like Cape Fear, has everything to do with the Chambers’ performance as he channels in many ways the great Robert De Niro’s portrayal of the rape-crazy redneck monster from that film. Chambers’ character Dixon in Knuckleball shows up early in the film as a neighbour who seems a little too eager to take the new kid on a tour of the farm. He definitely doesn’t play it all that subtle, but he’s never over-the-top evil either. Chambers’ performance is that of an extremely damaged and disturbed man-child who goes off the rails when opportunity presents itself to him in the most unexpected manner. Seeing what he does with that opportunity is extremely harrowing.
Luca Villacis plays Henry, our young protagonist of Knuckleball and he’s one helluva brave little badass. Henry is dumped unexpectedly on his grandfather’s farm so his parents can attend a funeral, and during his stay there he’s forced to shovel poop and do chores around the place while taking little breaks to learn various pitching techniques by his grandfather, played by the great Michael Ironside. Henry’s grandpa isn’t your typical gruff and angry “back in my day” kinda guy either – there’s a very grounded portrayal here from Ironside who opts for realism and I think leaving a good aura of mystery to this character was the right move. Once the layers start to peel back over the course of the film, you’ll learn more about this damaged man, but I will say that Ironside is truly brilliant in this role and once the credits hit, you’ll be thinking about his performance for quite some time afterwards.
The movie looks amazing too – the cold and desolate prairie landscapes really added to the experience and I feel like I’ve seen all of these places before. Growing up in Alberta (where Knuckleball was filmed) I’ve driven down some of these roads and although I’ve never had to fight for my life in some of these locations, the familiarity of them really struck a cord with me personally. Canadian winter sucks, but it sucks even worse when a deranged lunatic is hunting a small child during a snowpocalypse. Peterson and his crew did a tremendous job capturing that dread and uneasy feeling we all get during the 8 months of winter we typically endure in Alberta, almost to the point where it in itself became a supporting character.
Knuckleball is a fast-paced thriller and once we are thrust into the grit and action of the film (signalled perfectly by a ringing telephone as if to say “the shit is about to pop off people”) the chaos truly doesn’t let up at all until the abrupt conclusion that leaves viewers with maybe a few too many unanswered questions but a sense of implied dread that may be even worse than a thorough explanation of what the hell went wrong on this farm. Henry does a wicked job of setting traps up in his grandpa’s house in order to delay Nixon’s assault and although you’ll definitely recall Home Alone during these scenes, Peterson’s movie never feels fake or silly. When Henry is forced to stab Dixon with a knife while constantly running to the next room, the danger always grips you and on more than one occasion I may have yelled “holy shit” outloud while cheering for this little kid. We as horror fans are used to making fun of a protagonist’s survival choices, but Henry usually makes the right call and it all felt very natural to me.
There’s a subplot that explains Dixon’s animalistic and evil motivations, but I hesitate to spoil them here because it’s all part of this mystery which slowly reveals itself in the most unsettling and brilliant ways throughout Knuckleball‘s runtime. Chambers did such an incredible job playing this vile and yellow-toothed monster that even though you’ll cheer when he gets a baseball to the face, you’ll also constantly be thinking about those spoilery undertones which add a disturbing and often-unexplored aspect of human nature in its most vile form. It’s an aspect of the film that is always there and although we never truly dive all that deep into these characters’ past, the implied horrors of what someone like Dixon are capable of is just enough to make viewers even more on edge. The consequences of what can happen to this little kid who is forced to survive or die on this goddamn frozen farm of horrors is the driving force of Knuckleball and as a parent myself the subject matter felt even more brutal seeing it play out the way it does.
Knuckleball is a sensational Canadian indie that will have movie fans clinging to the edge of their seats for all 80-plus minutes. Although I craved a little more explanation by the end of the movie and I did feel the conclusion was slightly too abrupt, Knuckleball is still a ridiculously entertaining thriller that will have fans literally yelling outloud and cheering for this little kid who gives me hope that videogames can indeed be a useful training tool when it comes to being put in a life-or-death situation. There’s a lesson to be learned here people.