The symbol of the strong, powerful father figure is one that remains a prominent one in our society. The father will make sure that nothing can harm his loved ones no matter the cost. But what happens when the one greatest source of strength is taken away from the father? And how does that grieve take its toll on all of those around him? What consequences occur as a result of not letting go of that grief? This is what Hulu and Blumhouse aim to explore in the horror anthology series INTO THE DARK’s Father’s Day-themed episode titled THEY COME KNOCKING. Unfortunately, the new episode delivers us mixed results.
The episode focuses on Nathan Singer (Clayne Crawford), a father who is silently grieving the loss of his wife Val (Robyn Lively) from cancer a year after her passing. He has decided that he’s going to take his two daughters, Clair (Josephine Langford) and Maggie (Lia McHugh), on a trip to the place where he proposed to his wife. Tensions are high between Nathan and Clair regarding the purpose of the trip while Maggie silently keeps her own grieving process to herself. Unfortunately, once they arrive at a campsite, they all find themselves plagued by supernatural entities led by The Girl (Willa Pogue) who come knocking at their mobile home’s doorstep. Chaos ensues once The Girl is denied access and the family soon learns the cost of holding onto their grief.
I will try my best to refrain from spoiling the plot of this particular episode. That being said, I will be frank. This is arguably the weakest episode of the INTO THE DARK anthology series. And the primary reason I feel is due to how the story was written by Shane and Carey Van Dyke. Within the first ten minutes of the movie and seeing how much Val’s, the deceased mother figure, presence still loomed large and in charge in the minds of Nathan and his daughters, I knew exactly what the story would be focusing on. As the plot continued to fold onscreen, I could predict each step the characters would take and why. Part of that was how clearly developed the character’s motivations and personalities were, but I attribute that more to the individual actors and their hard work rather than the actual writing. As such, by the time the credits rolled, I was trying hard to figure out whether or not there were any surprises that had actually taken me by surprise. The only answer I was found was a soft ‘no’.
Grief looms large in this particular episode; its sticky threads are interwoven within every single scene to pull the story together albeit sometimes a little too hard. There was no easy way to avoid the message that was trying to be conveyed. Grief is healthy, but you can’t keep holding onto it. If you don’t, it will swallow you up and eat you whole. This was made abundantly clear with the strong emphasis placed on the mother’s presence in the story. However, this strong emphasis felt like it did more harm than good to the overall final product. At times I actually had to question whether or not the episode should have been the Mother’s Day episode because the character of Val was such a prominent presence within the realm of the story that it actually detracted from everyone else. While I could understand the emphasis due to the message of grief being this all-encompassing presence, I felt that pulling back on the inclusion of the mother would have made the message more subtle and wouldn’t serve as a distraction throughout the course of the film.
What did salvage THEY COME KNOCKING was the acting performances provided by the cast. The chemistry between Clayne Crawford, Josephine Langford, and Lia McHugh felt immensely natural and you honestly felt like they were a family. The silent struggle that Crawford conveys in his performance as Nathan Singer makes the character vulnerable and relatable to the audience. It also helps to showcase a less prominent side of the father image typically seen in the bulk of media i.e. the struggling father who is still keeping it together for his kids, but not completely losing his shit in the process. Josephine Langford tackles the role of snotty teenager Clair with much snark, but the gradual fragility she conveys later on in the episode helps create a more three-dimensional character for the audience to take in. Particularly heart-wrenching was Lia McHugh as Maggie, the youngest daughter of the Singer clan. To see her transformation from the peppy daughter trying to make sure her Daddy was distracted from his pain to the scared girl just wanting her mother back was truly something special to behold. And it seemed perfectly natural.
Overall, THEY COME KNOCKING is just okay. Director Adam Mason tries to make the best out of the written material that he’s been given, but there is only so much one can do to elevate the script. While the warning of holding onto grief and how powerful that emotion can be is a strong force within the script, the constant in-your-face emphasis ends up being a bit too much. That combined with a predictable plot makes me think this is more miss than a hit. Unlike its predecessors, this film won’t linger for long in the mind. In fact, you’ll be lucky if you remember anything outside of the excellent performances delivered by the actors.
The new Father’s Day-themed episode THEY COME KNOCKING will be available June 7th on Hulu.
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