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Review: Slow to take flight, thriller 'Knuckleball' proves effective

Review: Slow to take flight, thriller 'Knuckleball' proves effective
Luca Villacis, left, and Michael Ironside in the movie "Knuckleball." (Chris Large / Freestyle Digital Media)

It takes a while for the home invasion thriller “Knuckleball” to build momentum, though the set-up time isn’t wasted. Writer-director Michael Peterson and co-writer Kevin Cockle pay a welcome amount of attention to developing the movie’s characters and setting, before delivering their grim spin on “Home Alone.”

Luca Villacis stars as Henry, an ordinary videogame-loving preteen boy, whose mom drops him off to spend a few days at the remote farm of her estranged father Jacob (Michael Ironside). Bonding time with grandpa goes fine for a while, until something tragic happens, and Henry has to call for help from an odd neighbor, Dixon (Munro Chambers), who knows all of the family’s dark secrets.

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It’s evident from the ominous music at the start of “Knuckleball” that something’s going to go awry and that it’s probably going to involve whatever happened to drive a wedge between Jacob and his daughter. While Henry prepares to defend his grandfather’s property — and his own life — from Dixon, he learns more about his mom’s dysfunctional upbringing.

The movie’s big revelations are a bit of a letdown; and while the bloody cat-and-mouse scenes between Henry and Dixon are well-staged, they’re a little too conventional. Despite its name, “Knuckleball” isn’t all that unpredictable.

But for the most part, this is a tautly constructed exercise in suspense, set among striking-looking snowbound fields and farmhouses. It’s a vivid slice-of-life, even before the literal slicing begins.

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‘Knuckleball’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Playing: Starts Oct. 5, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood

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