The Knocking

The Knocking (Koputus) (2022)

The Knocking (Koputus) had its UK première on Fri 25th Aug at FrightFest, 2023

On a rainy night in 2006, police officers find the body of a father (Niko Saarela), killed by an axe blow, in the yard outside his remote woodland home. In an upstairs room, his terrified young daughter Matilda (Hilma Temonen) is discovered shut in a dog cage, while the mother (Olga Temonen) has vanished without trace. This incident is the mystery at the heart – and at the Heartland, which is the forest’s name – of The Knocking (Koputus) , the feature debut of co-writers/co-directors Joonas Pajunen and Max Seeck.

Over a decade later, after their mother has finally been declared legally dead by the authorities, young adult Matilda (Saana Kovisto) and her older, estranged siblings Maria (Inka Kallén) and Mikko (Pekka Strang) are at last “officially orphans” and head back together to the property that is now their inheritance. There they must decide whether to keep the place or to sell it on. None of them has much affection for the house, a creaky, creepy old timber construction echoing with bad memories of their late father – a bullying patriarch who had driven the older siblings away long before the incidents of that mysterious night. The 100 acres of woodland beyond are a different question, worth a fortune to the different companies that would like to exploit it, but also valuable in a different way for exactly what it already is: an ancient, untouched ecosystem. 

Indeed, ecological concerns play a crucial rôle in The Knocking. It sets itself up as classic cabin in the woods horror, complete with an adjoining toolshed where the axe may now be missing but the chainsaw is still present and working – and through flashbacks it shows domestic dysfunction repeating itself down the generations. Yet as dendrochronologist Mikko is quick to mention, the psychologically fraught tensions in the house are as nothing compared to the peculiar phenomena that he is oberving in the trees outside. As a witch-like old woman (Janina Berman) who has been keeping a file on this family and its surroundings circles in, it seems that a folkloric spirit of the forest is coming home.

Here Mikko turns out to be a chip off the old block, no less secretive, greedy and deceitful than his father, and equally given to imposing abortion on women against their will (less pro-choice than anti-life). Indeed even if the son has not fallen far from the tree, his academic interest in annual growth rings dovetails neatly with a narrative of cycling (and recycling) histories.    

“What was the cage thing?”, Matilda will ask of her childhood trauma, echoing a question that Maria had earlier put to Mikko. Once revealed, the reason that Matilda was placed there might seem banal – but the image of her encagement comes to resonate with a film whose characters are shown to be entrapped not just in various enclosed spaces, but in their family legacy, in their narrow short-term mindsets, and in myth itself. After all, it is just part of human nature that there is a wooden box awaiting each and every one of us. 

strap: That’s a rap: Joonas Pajunen and Max Seeck’s folk horror feature debut brings into collision domestic and ecological traditions

© Anton Bitel