In which Eli Roth stays in. The writer-director, whose films have a penchant for observing the wrongheaded who go out into the world and discover horror, is quite clearly and fascinatingly switching things up. Here, in his sort of home invitasion movie Knock Knock, his leadwho no less makes all the wrong movessimply has to open the door. What happens when terror comes home? Nothing, if youre smart. An attempt at absurdist psychocomedy, if youre not.
Keanu Reeves Evan, being a male Eli Roth protagonist, is not smart. Or, at least not strong. Working alone in his upper class home on a rainy evening, Evan hears a knock or two at the door. Whos there? Genesis and Bel (Lorenza Izzo & Ana de Armas, respectively), a pair of beauties cold and distressed. A besweatered nice guy dad to the max, Evan comes to their aid, and subsequently does so with each new request, a transgression in doe-eyed disguise.
This first half of the film (inspired by the Colleen Camp & Sondra Locke-starring Death Game, both of whom produced here), largely contained and almost theatrical, hosts the dark comedy of watching Reeves squirm. His Evan is, for the most part, truly a Nice Guy. When Genesis and Bel drop sexually forward nuggets of conversation, suggestive touches in body language, his discomfort is screaming off the screen. Roth crafts a visual gag of Evan endlessly switching seats in his living room, the point blank nature of the frame making each awkward move funnier than the last. He can run, but in this open space, clearly cant hide. This is where Knock Knock is at its best, the nervous tension of when? Not when will Evans layers peel and reveal something base, but when will he break? How much of the girls maneuvering can he take? How much of his I used to be a DJ can they?
Evans ultimate indulgence is of a grand 90s erotic thriller nature, the suspense score turned high, the illicitness of it all relished in flashes of lightning and clawing of skin. Its sadly one of the few moments where the film gets truly stylish. In the others, Roths camera traverses Evans giant home, surveying hallways of family photos and his wifes modern art. Each stroll throughalmost act breaksreveals a crack, different shades of the same décor. Once a photo is wholesome, the next time its watchful. The blinds however are always perfectly perched so as to cut the light with noirish shade.
Post-threesome is when Knock Knock gets truly out of hand, as both Genesis and Bel consider themselves permanent residents, new loves and Evans children all at once. Wide-eyed and charged to drive Evan mad with guilt and acknowledgment of a transgression far beyond his adulterous mistake, they sexually and violently destroy the symbols of his happy home: his daughters clothes, his wifes work, the hanging photos, his clinging-to-cool record collection. Here Roth turns his focus away from the standard cautionary tale and to the nature of how a stumble becomes a fall.
Very active on social mediaThe Green Infernos end credits sees cast and crew accompanied by their twitter handlesRoth is clearly aware of its swarming nature, how a case of foot-in-mouth can ruin you. Genesis and Bel are not villains for seducing Evan. Shitty choices make for shitty consequence, after all. Their ultimate sinister act is in trying to amplify Evans act of betrayal into something criminal. Its sort of the ultimate adult white male fear that things are blown out of proportion. The films psychological torture however begins to mirror Evans spiral and Knock Knock enters into tonal disarray.
Roth has always made horror-comedies, the humor pitched between subversive and dark, and broad and gross. Knock Knock again aims for that sweet spot, but its often lacking visual texture, suffering from a flat, stilted aesthetic. As the absurdity of both the girls behavior and Evans reaction escalates, only Armas is able to match it, her knowing smile both sly and horrific throughout. It doesnt help that the girls tactics are perhaps far too worn. Izzo and Armas chemistry as a gruesome twosome is real deal, but their characters giddy psychotics are familiar. They just never push as far as Roth has proven hes willing to go, hindering any satire of grown men playing the victimReeves final rant, sure to be immortalized by the films fans quoting free pizza comes close.
From Cabin Fevers selfish ensemble, to Hostels ugly Americans, to Hostel Part IIs empowering turned tables, to The Green Infernos nihilistic punchline, Knock Knock just isnt as cutting; a shame, when it could be so relevant.