Knucklebones Movie Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Released by Midnight Releasing
Written and directed by Mitch Smith
85 minutes, 2016, Not Rated
Released on DVD and VOD on September 13th, 2016
Julin Jean as Neesa
Katie Bosacki as Samantha
Justin Arnold as Travis
Cameron Deane Stewart as Adam
Taylor Tippins as Kia
When her fiancé dumps her hard, citing the need to explore what's outside of central Texas, Neesa Avery spirals into depression as fast as a cyclone coming through Tornado Alley. Desperate to pull her out of it, her best friend Samantha takes her to explore an abandoned textile factory with their friend Kia and two guys they don't seem to know that well. You know, like smart people do. There they find a set of knucklebone dice and instructions to summon a demon. So they do it. And it doesn't go that well. Neesa must find her will to fight again to save her friends and her family from the demon Knucklebones, before he takes her to hell.
As a supporter and champion of independent film, this movie is pretty embarrassing. So many airbag naked breasts and off-color snarky comments can't give this muddled and messy story any virtue.
To say the acting is wooden would be an understatement. Besides Cameron Deane Stewart (who plays Adam), the whole cast seems as though they saw one Crest commercial and decided they could be an actor. Their deliveries are stiff and soulless and floundering. That could be due in part to the writing leading their characters all over the emotional map with no clear line of evolution. Neesa is telling Samantha she's okay, she'll be fine one minute, and the next she's leaving desperate voicemails on her ex's cell phone forcing tears. Travis (played by Justin Arnold) is all for summoning a demon to impress flirty Kia, only to call it “totally gay” not two minutes later. It feels like writer/director Mitch Smith didn't actually read his script through after he finished it to make sure it all made sense. He didn't stop to think that his demon, a 2,000-year-old Sumerian creation, probably wouldn't make contemporary one-liners like Freddy Kruger, or slash people with a makeshift machete like Jason Vorhees. And yet Knucklebones does, badly, disgustingly, and obnoxiously.
Smith definitely didn't check the ADR, because twice sound didn't line up with the actors' mouth movements.
There are too many problems to fit in one review, but it can be summed up by the argument that too many independent movie makers think they have to produce something sexy and stupid to sell. Large breasts, an unwarranted gratuitous sex scene, and unfunny demon quips aren't necessary to create a horror movie that will sell – a counterpoint can gain distribution just as well. The Final Girls, an independent release that came out of SXSW in 2015, made that point specifically by mocking the traditional slasher-killing-sexy-teens setup Smith is desperate to recreate here. And if you're going to the trouble to make a movie out of passion, why not something we've never seen before rather than tired tropes and boring clichés?
I'll allow one star for what Neesa has to do to defeat the demon; I didn't see that twist coming and I'm very glad she didn't get out unscathed. I wish that moment of character development and strength could overcome the rest of this disappointment, but it's too little too late.
Independent filmmakers can do more, and they need to. We have enough garbage from the major studios, and we deserve better.