Frida Kempff’s timely Sundance psychological thriller Knocking is releasing on digital and on-demand tomorrow, October 19. 1428 Elm was lucky enough to interview Frida and the film’s star, Cecilia Milocco, about the movie and the thought process behind it.
For those unfamiliar, the Swedish film is skillfully built on genuine human fears and anxieties, particularly those that affect women. It centers on the character Molly (Milocco), who moves into a new apartment after a traumatic incident to begin her path to recovery. But Molly’s path is interrupted when she starts to hear persistent knocks every night, and no one believes her when she tries to get to the source of the sound.
Knocking premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim and is Swedish director Kempff’s narrative feature debut.
Knocking movie interview with star Cecilia Milocco and director Frida Kempff
1428 ELM: How did you get involved in this project?
FRIDA KEMPFF: Actually, by accident, I came across this short novel, which Knocking is based on, and social issues have always interested me. I started in documentary, and I tried some short narratives, but when I read this story, I felt that I could combine a story that matters into a genre movie even though I didn’t know I was doing a genre movie at the time.
But there was something that I liked about it. I also felt that it’s a story and subject—not being trusted as a woman—you could really put yourself in Molly’s shoes. As an audience, you can doubt with her and try to figure out what the sound comes from, so that was interesting.
CECILIA MINOCCO: I’d been working with Frida before. She did a short movie, and also in that movie, she relied on the experience, the inner life, of a woman. That was when we first met, and I met Molly, too. She’s very interested in the female experience, so that was the first thing before I got the script, I thought it was really great.
1428 ELM: Cecilia, did you find it challenging acting alone for so much of this movie, or was that something fun for you?
CECILIA: It was fun. [Laughs] I think to do that, you have to have an eye, and Frida was that eye, and also Hannes [Krantz] the cinematographer. We had a lot of trust in each other. This was a fun experience, and heavy, I remember it as fun.
FRIDA: Sometimes I think it was hard for you. It must have been hard.
CECILIA: It was hard because we slept and then we’d wake up and talk about Molly and then went into the room and then slept and went up, so like yes, it was hard work, but it’s also fun when you can go 100% in a world like we did. It doesn’t happen very often.
1428 ELM: There are so many fantastic stylistic choices in this film, too. I appreciated how especially in the scenes where Molly is trying to get people to believe her, the camera focuses on her, and as the audience, you’re seeing what those people would see. There is also that scene where she goes upstairs before she opens the door, and all of these men surround her. I feel like, as a woman, we’ve all been in a situation where we feel intimidated by a man or unsure of what he’s going to do next, and it created a real sense of tension. Can you talk a little about your filming choices?
FRIDA: I talked very early with the DP, Hannes, that I wanted him to reflect Molly’s experience, and that camera had to be that way all the time. So he had to learn how to be a woman, [Laughs] in a way, which I think he did well. All the departments I worked with had to follow Molly’s emotional journey. It was narrow, but in a way, it was easy for them.
And all of the use of colors, like in the start of the film, she was green because that represented the healthy and steady, and in the end, she was very red. Actually, even her shirt becomes redder in one scene because of her temper. We talked a lot about colors instead of words, which was better, I think.
1428 ELM: Since this film is about having strange neighbors, so to speak, have either of you ever had an experience like that in real life?
CECILIA: Actually, in Gothenburg, where I live right now, there was an incident because there was a man in the city, there were two explosions in an apartment building. There was fire and a lot of injuries, very traumatic and it was someone who had lived there, a neighbor that didn’t live there anymore and now they are searching for him. I thought of that because everyone said, “He was so nice.”
I never had that experience, but it’s interesting. I live in an apartment, and I hear sounds all the time. Sometimes you can actually think, why don’t I have more curiosity about where these sounds are coming from? I hear this sound coming every night. What is that? You live so near each other, but you learn not to care. [Knocking] can happen. It’s not a strange novella. It can happen.
1428 ELM: I feel like after people watch Knocking, they’re going to be second-guessing the noises they hear.
FRIDA: [Laughs] Normal knocking or weird knocking? I don’t have that experience, but I actually had a mental breakdown in a very tiny apartment, so I know the feeling that Molly experienced. I’m very sound sensitive, so I heard a lot of things during that time.
But what inspired me with this film was also, you know this well Cecilia, and it’s probably the same in the U.S., but we’ve had a lot of violence against women, especially one case where the neighbors heard every evening that a woman was being beaten up, but no one did anything. This film is also about courage to actually raise your voice and do something when you hear something.
1428 ELM: One thing I liked about it is that the whole third act is ambiguous in many ways. In some ways, it makes the audience complicit because by the end of the film, you’re wondering if you believe her or if you’ve become like the people who were doubting her, or am I going to be on her side? What are your thoughts on the way the film ended?
FRIDA: I like it to be very open. I see it as an open ending but, in a way giving her credit, without spoiling too much. But we have to start listening to each other and have empathy and humanity for each other. We need that more than ever.
CECILIA: Without spoiling the end, I think that the film has a lot of layers in a way, so whatever you see in the end, it’s also a story of grief. The ending is like when you go through a fire and then come out on the other side, in a way, or find closure.
1428 ELM: I also loved that Molly had that queer romance. Was that something planned in the script or something you guys decided while filming?
FRIDA: In the script, it was her only friend, and for me, I read it as it was her lover. I thought it was interesting not to comment or make a big thing of it, just have it there.
CECILIA: It was just her relationship, like any relationship. I liked that, too. I thought that was beautiful.
Knocking, directed by Frida Kempff and starring Cecilia Milocco, is now playing in theaters and will be released digitally and on-demand tomorrow, October 19.