Knocking (Knackningar) (2021)

Knocking first published by

“There is knocking. I hear knocking sounds in my ceiling. Someone needs help. I think someone needs our help.” 

Molly Aronsson (Cecilia Milocco) is speaking to Per (Albin Grenholm), who lives one floor up from the apartment into which she has recently moved. Per is not the first or the last upstairs neighbour whom Molly hassles about the sounds she hears coming from above. There is also guarded Kaj (Ville Virtanen), and Atif (Alexander Salzberger), who sometimes argues with his girlfriend Yasmine (Naida Ragimova). None of these, however, can hear the knocking that fills Molly’s apartment. 

In fact, Molly is traumatised, institutionalised, lost. She has come to this apartment building direct from a facility for the mentally ill where she has spent the las year in recovery, following the accidental death of her lover Judith (Charlotta Åkerblom) – a death through which Molly slept. Now Molly is not only trying to adjust to life alone and to make a new home for herself, but also longing to assuage her sense of guilt – and so when she hears, or thinks she hears, a woman attempting to make contact and to send out a cry for help, Molly will not let it go, even after no proof can be found that there is a girl being held and beaten upstairs.

“Someone needs help” is a phrase that resonates ambiguously in Frida Kempff’s Knocking (Knackningar), which Emma Broström has adapted from a short story by Johan Theorin. There is a clear presence in the building, pleading to be saved – but at the same time Molly does imagine both things and people not actually there. Cinematographer Hannes Krantz always keeps his camera close on Molly (even employing SnorriCam to depict her more frenetic moments), or else restricts whatever else we see to her often hallucinatory point of view. In other words, all the film’s events are focalised through its protagonist, and this creates the impression that we are always in Molly’s addled headspace. Even her name recalls the unreliable, unravelling heroine from Eduardo Sánchez’s Lovely Molly (2012). So perhaps Molly, who goes off her meds and scribbles codes all over her wall and rants manically and rummages through people’s rubbish and brandishes weapons, is the only one who needs help after all.  

“Could there be other reasons for the knocking?” asks the disembodied voice at the end of an emergency services line that Molly has called. Indeed, there could be many other reasons in an overdetermined narrative where Molly’s dreams and waking experience are confused, where the painful memories that haunt Molly’s mind might just be vying with ghosts that haunt the building, and where Molly’s clearly persistent mental illness need not mean that her beliefs and claims should be dismissed out of hand. Even the ending of Knocking (no spoiler) is deeply ambiguated. For with the distinction between Molly’s interior life and the exterior world by now so rigorously broken down, who in the end can tell what is real, and what merely deluded fantasy? All this is anchored by Milocco’s extraordinary performance, as contradictory undercurrents of emotional turmoil are inscribed on her face. Hearing her repeatedly insist, “I’m well now” – when all evidence suggests the contrary – divides us, along with Molly, between what we want to be true and what we fear is not.

Strap: Frida Kempff’s psychodrama sees a mentally ill woman haunted by both traumatic loss and sounds coming from upstairs

© Anton Bitel