Knock Knock (2015)
Director: Eli Roth
Screenplay: Eli Roth, Guillermo Amoedo, Nicolás López
Mentioning Eli Roth’s name nowadays creates strong reactions. Backlash even. And it’s fair to say, that some of that is not unwarranted – his kinda smug and name-dropping demeanor certainly were not helping his cause. The Massachusetts-born writer/producer/director made something of a splash with his 2001 feature debut “Cabin Fever“(which is a film I still like), and in his follow-up(s) “Hostel” and “Hostel part II” he was one of the main culprits in the creation of the so-called “torture porn”-genre(which is a horror subgenre I really don’t much care for). The “Hostel”-films just seemed to me like an attempt at being outrageous for outrageousness sake – never mind trying to tell any kind of real story. The second film got it’s workprint leaked in the Internet before release and because of that(or because it was just bad? Nothing more than a gender-swapped version of the first one) it totally tanked at the box-office – in several countries it was actually released direct-to-video.
After this, Roth stayed away from the director’s seat for a long time, instead focusing on his “acting”-career(I used air quotes because Roth can really only play one character: Eli Roth) in Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof” and “Inglourious Basterds” as well as Nicolás López’s “Aftershock“. He also produced a lot of films, like “The Last Exorcism” and it’s sequel “The Last Exorcism Part II“(which in itself is one of the dumbest titles in cinema history), “The Man With the Iron Fists“, the forementioned “Aftershock” and “The Sacrament“. In the meanwhile, he was trying to develop a few projects to direct; I remember him being attached on “The Box“, based on the Richard Matheson short story “Button, Button”, for a while but that was eventually directed by Richard Kelly(another talent from the same generation as Roth who jumped the shark early on). I also recall Roth trying to get an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “Cell” made for a while before dropping out of that project.
“Knock Knock” is actually Roth’s fifth film as a director. The film he did before this – the “Cannibal Holocaust“-homage “The Green Inferno” – was actually completed in 2013 but it’s release at the time got cancelled because of some financial troubles by some production/distribution company involved, I believe. That film actually finally managed to get a release in this same year, but “Knock Knock” is the one that landed here first, so that’s what I’ll review now. So – what exactly is “Knock Knock“?
The film tells the story of Evan Webber(Keanu Reeves), an architect – happily married and father of two. Evan and his artist wife Karen(Ignacia Allamand) are two very busy people; with their careers and kids and whatnot, that they have not had time to take care of their relationship properly. Now Karen and the kids are going to a beach house for the weekend as Evan(with the family dog called “Monkey”) is staying home to try and finish a large project. That evening, as a heavy rainstorm is falling on the neighborhood, there’s a knock on Evan’s door. It’s two girls; Genesis(Lorenza Izzo) and Bel(Ana De Armas). They have become lost, looking for a party, being ditched by their cab driver into an unfamiliar area. They ask Evan is they could borrow either a phone or a computer so that they can find the party they were supposed to go to. Evan, being the gentleman that he is, of course agrees to help them out – even offering to fix their soaked phone as well as drying out their soaked clothes. After they discover that the place they were supposed to be at is actually miles and miles away, Evan orders a car to pick them up. While waiting for the car, the three get acquainted: we learn that Evan was actually a DJ before his current profession and the girls are flight attendants. Pretty soon the girls’ demeanor gets more and more flirtatious and their talk gets more and more towards the subject of sex. As the tension finally gets unbearable, and the girls’ approach more aggressive, Evan has a moment of weakness and gives in. He ends up sleeping with both girls.
The following day, Evan wakes up and finds that the girls have basically made themselves at home, totally destroying the kitchen while making “brekkie”, with no intention of leaving. Turns out that they are not flight attendants at all – and there was no party to go to. Their behavior also becomes more and more erratic, completely setting Evan(who is already having some serious regret-issues) off – and the girl’s final revelation that Bel is actually under-aged finally sets him completely off. After lots of begging/persuasion/threats, he finally gets the girls into his car and drives them off. He then proceeds to clean the house(which is a total mess) and gets back to work, just wanting to finish his work – which is what he SHOULD’VE done in the first place. And then he hears a sound of breaking glass.
And then…things get worse. A LOT worse.
The first thing that popped into my mind when watching this film, is that Roth has seriously toned himself down. There are no signs of the sort of ham-fistedness and aiming-to-outrageness in this movie, which really plagued his two “Hostel“-films. The movie is elegantly directed, with a calm pace and using long tracking steadicam shots(which for some reason made me think of Dario Argento – I know, it’s almost a sacrilege to mention Argento in the same space as Roth, but that’s who they reminded me of) that move throughout the endless hallways and spaces of the house. And as the film really takes place in one single location with basically just three characters, it almost feels – at least at times – like a stage play. The film has a really sleek look and Roth tightens the screws of tension really efficiently as the situation – and the characters – just spiral deeper down into craziness.
Reeves – still sporting his John Wick beard(actually him being in the house alone with just a dog bring that film in mind a lot) – is continuing his nice “old Keanu”-streak of characters that have something of a poor moral compass. I mean, I don’t know if many actors could pull off this kind of a character that basically makes the audience despise him in the end of the first act of the film, doing what he does. But the hell he get’s put in AFTER that, and the way he plays his character just falling deeper and deeper into this hole that he dug himself, kinda makes you root for him again. That may also be partially due to the fact that Izzo and De Armas do such an excellent job at slowly amping up the madness of their characters. Both of these girls are pretty much unknown at this point(Izzo starred in “Aftershock” and “the Green Inferno, De Armas has mostly done short films and some little parts in Spanish films), but I’m pretty sure that we will see them do more good work later on. The other really major part is Aaron Burns, playing Karen’s assistant Louis, who accidentally stumbles onto the scene at exactly the wrong time, and there’s also a funny little cameo from Colleen Camp as Evan’s physical therapist, but the film really belongs to the three main characters.
If I have one little gripe about the film, it’s that I’m a bit of two minds about the ending(which I will not spoil here); on one hand it feels a bit of a cop-out after all the madness that has preceded it. But then again, the totally sadistic predicament it leaves our main character into, is also strangely satisfying. I dunno; apparently this film is a remake of a 1977 film called “Death Game“(starring Colleen Camp and Sondra Locke – who both are credited as producers in this film), which I haven’t seen – so I can’t really say if it had a similar ending or if Roth & co. tried to do something a bit different here. Who knows. I just feels that something a bit more….extreme could have been made with it. But in general, I found this film to be quite entertaining, with great lead performances and something of a return to form from Eli Roth.
Who could’ve seen that coming?