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.
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.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 5, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood