CUFF Review: Alberta-shot Knuckleball an ominous film that jumps into the thriller genre with both feet

Well, this is ominous, we think, almost immediately.

A young boy (Luca Villacis) is dropped off at his grandfather’s farm in a remote spot on the Alberta prairies. The grandfather (played with astonishing gravitas by Michael Ironside) has never even met the boy, and we suspect that the old man is not to be trusted. The nearest telephone is in a neighbour’s house, there’s hardly anybody else around for miles, and there’s a blizzard on the way.

I won’t spoil what happens next, but anyone can see that something is going to go horribly wrong.

Knuckleball is a film that jumps into the thriller genre with both feet, and we are held in suspense from the very beginning. This is aided by an extremely eerie score and by Ironside’s electrifying screen presence. His scowling face and gravelly voice were made for this kind of role. Whenever he isn’t on screen, the film suffers for it.

The main problem is that it’s completely obvious from the get-go that Henry, our young protagonist, will find himself in dire jeopardy. There’s not even a hint that this film could go any other way. I can believe that a bored preteen boy would wear down his cell phone battery playing games, even after realizing that he’s left his charger at home, but that’s just one of many potential safety nets the plot is careful to remove ahead of time. Before long, we’re just waiting to see what kind of danger will strike.

It didn’t have to be like this. There’s a good scene in which the boy demonstrates his talent for throwing fastballs, and his grandfather helps him improve his accuracy. For a moment, we forget about suspense. A few more scenes like this would have helped a lot.

Still, the main point of the exercise is thrills ’n’ shocks, and that’s where Knuckleball shines. After a slow-burn buildup, when the danger does come, it hits hard.

See the edge of your seat? Get comfortable; you’re going to spend quite a bit of time there.

Knuckleball screens Tuesday, April 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the Globe Cinema with director Michael Peterson, cast and crew in attendance. For tickets and more information please click here.

John Tebbutt is the Video Vulture. He has been writing about obscure and ridiculous cinema since 1997. You can keep up with his nonsense on his website, Facebook and Twitter. Check out the latest episode of his online series here.