Know Fear (2021)
Directed, Written, Edited by Jamison M. Locascio
Produced, Written, Composed by Adam Ambrosio
Unrated, 1 hour and 18 minutes
Imagine that you were tasked with fighting a demon to save the soul of a relative and the only way to comprehend the evil that you were about to face was either through sight, sound, or speech.
This is the innovative premise behind Know Fear, a potent indie thrill ride that manages to inject life into the somewhat tired head spinning subgenre of the demonic possession picture.
After a brief intro that shows us the fate of the previous homeowners, we are introduced to Wendy (Amy Carlson, Third Watch, Blue Bloods) and Donald (David Allen Basche, Spielberg’s War of The Worlds, United 93), two college professors who are in the process of moving into their new house unaware of the potential danger that awaits.
While searching through boxes left by the former residents, Wendy cuts herself and bleeds onto a ragged leather bound journal which soon becomes the object of her obsession. The journal, written in both an unidentified foreign language as well as Latin, is a archive of various demons and how to banish them. As Wendy attempts to translate the cryptic journal she quickly becomes more susceptible to the very evil that she is being warned about. Donald, her loving if skeptical husband, notices the drastic changes in his wife’s behavior and tries to help her to the best of his abilities, but ultimately Wendy succumbs to the demonic possession. Donald then has to turn to his family for help.
Donald’s niece, an amateur ghost hunter, Jami (Mallory Betchel, Hereditary, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit) deciphers a ritual for banishing the demon, but one that must completed by each member of the family. Donald, assisted by Jami’s brother Charlie (Jack DiFalco, Daredevil, Law and Order), and in a strange twist of fate Wendy’s student teacher Nancy (Meeya Davis, Premature, Red Dead Redemption II), sets out to save Wendy, unaware of the horrors that await. Horrors amplified by each other’s limited ability to fully interpret the demonic entity before them: One to See, One to Hear, and One to Speak.
Firmly rooted in the less-is-more aesthetic of such classics as The Haunting (1963) and The Changeling (1980), writer/director Jamison M. Locascio opts for a subtle approach in which sound design and brief glimpses of the demon’s skeletal claws are used to great affect. In fact, the demon is only fully shown once and then very briefly. This is not overcompensation for subpar effects; the demon is quite unsettling, but this film isn’t about using frequent jump scares or massive amounts of gore to terrify. This film focuses of skillful storytelling and standout performances to achieve its scares.
With such an unconventional plot device it could have been quite easy to dismiss the effects of the blood ritual with a throwaway line, but Locascio instead takes the opportunity to use this to showcase the various actors’ abilities by separating them near the beginning of the ritual allowing the audience to experience the volatile nature of their limited perception individually.
There is also great attention to detail as to which characters can actually access the ritual using insert shots showing a fully illustrated journal, held by the specific character, then transitioning to a visibly blank journal for wide shots of the group. Small moments like this are peppered throughout the film adding an authenticity to the devilish world that our characters have been thrust into.
Carlson’s outstanding performance as Wendy is a focal point with her slow collapse into possession firmly setting the stage for the rest of the film. Basche’s Donald, the unconvinced husband, is a great blend of compassion and concern without the immovable stubbornness that usually plagues characters of this type.
Betchel’s self assured but ultimately naïve portrayal of Jami, the would-be heroine, serves as a great counterpoint to DiFalco’s brooding Charlie. Davis is a welcome addition to the strong ensemble as Nancy, a character that could have been easily overlooked with a lesser performance.
But for all its accomplishments in world building and performances this film is not without flaws. In one scene in particular a character is stabbed in the gut with the accompanying sound effect signaling a monstrous evisceration. The character is later shown with an injury nowhere near the extent of what was heard. There is also a scene where a character gets trapped in an unlocked closet, and there’s not a proper amount of time or focus on the trapped character to adequately build enough suspense that a scenario such as this deserves. Luckily there are plenty of other tension filled scenes to make up for it.
All and all this is a picture that delivers on its unique premise. So, if you’re in the mood for a smartly directed, well performed tale get to Know Fear, available digitally on March 12th from Terror Films.