By CHRIS HALLOCK
Starring Amy Carlson, David Alan Basch, Jack DiFalco and Mallory Bechtel
Directed by Jamison M. LoCascio
Written by Adam Ambrosio & Jamison M. LoCascio
The horror genre regularly pits dysfunctional families against malevolent supernatural forces, a proven method used to examine toxic behaviors that plague kinfolk. The success of recent films like Hereditary (2018), The Dark and the Wicked (2020), and Relic (2020) hinged on their respective creators’ ability to orchestrate highly emotional drama, cultivating familial tension amid moments of stark terror. Jamison M. LoCascio’s KNOW FEAR treads similar territory, forcing a collective of detached relatives into a deadly encounter with a demon that can only be detected through supernaturally heightened senses – seeing, hearing, and speaking – distributed to them individually via a ritual. LoCascio attempts a unique spin on convention, but doesn’t probe deeply enough into the psyches of his characters to make an emotional impact.
In the opening, we’re given a glimpse of the violent history of an otherwise average suburban home, where we witness the massacre of a family under the influence of a supernatural presence. Flashing forward, we meet Wendy (Amy Carlson) and Donald (David Allen Basch) who are moving into the cursed abode, unaware of its tragic past, with their emotionally-distant nephew, Charlie (Jack DiFalco) and ghost-hunting niece, Jami (Mallory Bechtel) along to help. When Wendy finds an ancient text while rummaging through the previous tenants belongings, drops of her blood and invocations from its pages conjure a dormant demon that slowly takes control of her. In order to free Wendy from the demon’s grasp, the family must band together using their aforementioned abilities to vanquish the malicious foe.
KNOW FEAR feels underdeveloped in its mythology, but where it stumbles significantly is in the perfunctory treatment of its characters. Stories of this ilk work best when the paranormal is used as a metaphor for the personal challenges faced by the characters. Because of the film’s brisk pace and short running time, we’re only given a cursory character type for each player – Donald the skeptic, Wendy the scholar, Charlie the agitator, and Jami the believer – without getting a sense of how their anxieties and insecurities factor into their survival. The barely palpable conflict between them stems more from Charlie’s aloofness (the lingering effect of his father’s death which is hinted at in the dialogue), conveyed in a manner that lacks conviction from a directing and performance standpoint. As a result, each player reads as an incomplete persona, existing only as objects to possess and abuse, lacking the raw emotion that would propel the story and make their cooperative transformation feel more potent.
As a fun side note, one can view the film alongside an amusing 1935 MGM cartoon called Good Little Monkeys, as a variation on the Japanese proverb “Three Wise Monkeys,” in which a trio of pious monkeys (who hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil) banish a devil freed from the pages of Dante’s Inferno by resisting his sinful temptations. These parallels are likely accidental, but it’s interesting to find an old adage from another culture echoing through our contemporary media images. LoCascio and co-writer Adam Ambrosio are employing the inverse here, and to their characters’ misfortune, they’re unable to simply ignore the demon by covering their eyes, ears, and mouths.
There’s a sense that LoCascio had higher aspirations for KNOW FEAR than what is achieved in the finished product. The director is capable of arranging tense and shocking moments, but without the strong emotional core and compelling characters, the overarching theme of familial connectedness in the face of adversity falls flat. In competing with a glut of cinematic demon-plagued households to inhabit, the devil is in the details, and disengaged audiences won’t invest their own senses in such a half-hearted effort.
KNOW FEAR hits digital on March 12th, 2021 from Terror Films.