Director Adam Mason’s (I‘m Just F***ing With You) portrait of a broken patriarch enters the world of Blumhouse and Hulu’s exclusive holiday anthology series, Into The Dark, by bringing grief and fear to the isolated front door of a father-daughter road trip in They Come Knocking.
Grief plays a primal, antagonizing, emotional role in the horror genre. It’s something we all feel, it’s something we all experience, and it’s something none of us want to face. When we mourn the loss of a loved one, we experience the real inevitable horror our world naturally has to offer. No matter how well we prepare or how much we think we are ready to face the ugly truth of death, the only true escape is to find comfort within ourselves and within the ones who still surround us. Father’s Day is the celebration of the strength, courage, determination, and love we have for the men who lift us up to be the best people we can be, whether by biology or circumstance.
June’s fatherly themed episode stars Clayne Crawford (The Perfect Host) as Nathan, a man lost between guilt and suffering, Josephine Langford (Wish Upon) as his bitter teenage daughter Claire, and Lia McHugh (Totem) as his youngest, Maggie. Following the sudden death of his wife Valerie, Nathan and his two daughters pack up a camper and set sites on the spot where he asked her to marry him 17 years before. The trio, already emotionally battered from the tragedy, plan to scatter Valerie’s remains on the spot to commemorate her beloved memory, but are interrupted when ominous hooded children pound on the door of their camper pleading to be let inside. The broken family of They Come Knocking learns that they must not only come together to make it out of the desert alive but also face the ultimate pain of their loss as the treacherous forces around them find a way in.
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“The ghouls that taunt Nathan, Claire, and Maggie look like children, but they are not…”
Total freedom of the open road dangerously traps the family In total isolation, both literally and figuratively. They are secluded, far from the aid of others with no cell service and no means of transportation when the strange presence of menacing children wrecked their car engine. Mason does an excellent job of capturing the family in the claustrophobic space of their camper and the vast, empty environment around them. He takes advantage of these two very different types of settings to maximize the growing dread filling Nathan and his daughters as well as apply it to the prevalent themes of They Come Knocking.
Using a variety of tight angles, interesting focal points, and a paced, slow zoom, Mason adds depth to the characters of the story and the troublesome setting they find themselves in. Even when the perspective is focused on one of the characters, he manages to also keep the attention pointed at all three family members to show the emotions they are experiencing. His direction in They Come Knocking is thoughtful and meaningful towards the family, effectively portraying the helpless intensity of their isolated setting and the mounting emotional toll of separation that revolves around their loss. The lens takes charge in showing how Nathan, Claire, and Maggie all feel alone when it comes to the internal pain they are feeling, but also keeps a pulsing, steady aim to express the impending horrors of their seclusion from civility while under attack from unknown beings.
Written by brothers Shane and Carey Van Dyke (The Silence), They Come Knocking does well in tugging at heartstrings while placing viewers in a state of terrorizing survival, much like the situation Nathan and his daughters find themselves in. Here, they have built an interesting parallel between the narrative and the audience as we feel connected to these individuals but fear the frightening presence looming outside their camper door. The Van Dykes have crafted a dynamic dance between a grieving father and his daughters that achieves a purposeful approach displaying all relatable emotions from anger and resentment to dependency and appreciation.
Nathan is forced to make a hard decision, the most difficult humane decision, when it comes to ending Valerie’s treatment and ultimately letting his wife, and mother of his children, die to keep her from suffering. The relationship he has with his daughters, especially Claire, becomes a struggle. The two sisters contrast with one another, described as being different, but both like their mother adding a multitude of realistic layers to Nathan’s ability (and inability) to relate to the young girls. Claire’s resentment and harsh teenage attitude adds an authentic intensity to the dynamic but softens with the reminiscent dialogue and sad exposition flashback as the family slowly bands together to make it through the night alive. Their ways of coping are personal, causing them to clash out of guilt, but to bond in times of need. Nathan, Claire, and Maggie individually struggle with their emotions and the impending doom of the violent outside force, but they are struggles they have to face together and as individuals.
While a good portion of They Come Knocking is geared toward a distinct level of drama, the horror factor that makes a frightening visit is done with confidence and practicality. The ghouls that taunt Nathan, Claire, and Maggie look like children, but they are not. They have soft innocent voices and semi-distorted wax like faces, giving off the look of a child but moving like feral animals. I don’t particularly find children to be the scariest villains if anything the whole child monster type is a little weathered in my opinion, but these entities are pretty scary. Their smirking faces and black lifeless eyes are a perfect manifestation to lure this very real family out from their camper. They look natural, but as soon as their intentions are questioned we see that they are true distortions of evil. The ghouls are really unique, not only in look but in simplicity where the altruism of the film could have quickly been cheapened with digital apparitions or paranormal beings.
The gang of child monsters take on a more meaningful constitution as opposed to being used strictly for jump scare mechanics. Though the scares of They Come Knocking are visually chilling, they serve the overall theme as emotional points of development meant to draw this wounded family out from the confines of grief and into the open space of acceptance. They are both physical demons and emotional ones. Like so many horror genre allegories utilizing the villain as both the danger in the solution, the ghouls terrorize Nathan and his daughters in the same sense that their grief is the true attack on their family. However, their intent to lure them out into the secluded unknown environment means something so much more.
“a tear-jerking horror film with a message.”
Like so many of the elements and genre-heavy themes present in this story, Mason and the Van Dykes have collaborated to bring together a tear-jerking horror film with a message. It proves that the power of a family, a father‘s love and the love of his daughters, can be both the aggressor and relief of pure fear. Grief is the ultimate villain we struggle to shut out, but one we do not have to face completely alone. To put it simply, They Come Knocking is terrifying, and touching. This episode of Into The Dark applies the key phrase “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” to an effortless story standing in the doorway between love and fear begging us to answer.
Which do we let in?
Do you plan to stream They Come Knocking? How did this Father’s Day episode make you feel? Did you cry as much as I did? Share your thoughts on Into The Dark’s June episode over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!