Following on the heels of his cannibal exploitation redux, Green Inferno, Eli Roth released another ode to 1970s cinema – Knock Knock. While the movies were available within weeks of one another, they couldn’t be more different. The former was clearly more in Roth’s wheelhouse – a grotesque homage to Italian cannibal movies of the 70s and 80s. Comparatively, Knock Knock was a remake of a little known erotic thriller – something pretty far from what Roth’s movie-making expertise. But with Keanu Reeves in the lead role and promises of some biting satire, Knock Knock promises something very different from the horror director.
Evan Webber has it all. A successful architect, a beautiful and talented wife, two wonderful children, a gorgeous home – Evan wants for nothing. But with a project deadline looming, Evan has to spend Father’s Day weekend at home alone with his dog, Monkey, while his family head out for a beach getaway. Later that night, during a rainstorm, two young women turn up lost on his doorstep. Yet despite Evan’s best intentions, he inevitably gives in to their seductive advances. And any hope that his indiscretion will go unpunished fades quickly when his guests refuse to leave the next morning.
Knock Knock Too Tonally Inconsistent to Be Enjoyed as Satire
Outside of Rob Zombie, Eli Roth is arguably one of the more divisive horror directors of the last 20 years or so. Like Zombie and Quentin Tarantino, Roth has an affection for 70s exploitation cinema that figures into most of his work. And he certainly knows his way around the genre. Still Roth’s movies are often wildly inconsistent as he has a tendency to give into to his own worst excesses. Not surprisingly then, Knock Knock almost plays out like a greatest hits and misses from Roth’s collection. The excessive gore and violence may be absent, but the movie’s uneven tone and inability to settle on what it wants to be harken back to much of Roth’s filmography.
Too bad Roth can’t quite decide on what he wants to say with his movie.
True to his love 70s cinema, Knock Knock is actually an update of obscure 1977 thriller, Death Game. Both its unfamiliarity to most viewers and its subject matter made it somewhat of an ideal candidate for a remake. A subversive take on gender politics dressed up as home invasion thriller had potential to be subversive. Too bad Roth can’t quite decide on what he wants to say with his movie. When Reeves screams “I was a good guy” and “it was free pizza”, one almost gets the impression that Roth had something to say about toxic masculinity and male entitlement. Knock Knock even alludes to a potentially sad past of exploitation for one of its characters. But these are fleeting ideas. Roth picks up ideas and drops them in short order, even touching on social media briefly. Nothing really sticks.
Knock Knock More Shrill Than Satirical
Roth has a quirky, morbid sense of humour. Watch Cabin Fever again. It’s an eclectic blend of gross-out gore and bizarro humour. Even if you didn’t enjoy Roth’s debut effort, it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t memorable. With Knock Knock, however, one gets the impression that Roth may have bitten off more than he could chew. Part home invasion movie, part erotic thriller, and clearly intended as dark satire, Knock Knock struggles to get these disparate styles to gel. There’s little to nothing in the way of horror one expects from home invasion movies. And the satire feels broad, particularly as its antagonists are often more shrill than scary. While it’s fun seeing the tables turned on Reeves, there’s only so much mileage the movie gets out of it. At least Roth succeeds at teasing early sexual tension and getting some of the “erotic” part of a thriller right.
Keanu Reeves at the Cusp of the “Keanaissance”
At the time of Knock Knock’s release, Keanu Reeves was a year removed from the high of John Wick, his first commercially successful movie in years. Though the “Keanaissance” of today was still a little ways off, Reeves looks like he’s having a lot of fun with this role. Clearly, Reeves understands the satirical nature of the movie. True, audiences likely found it hard to imagine Reeves as the “Everyman” his character was meant to represent. And as Knock Knock unfolds, Reeves’ increasingly broad performance perfectly captures the intended tone along with the character’s true ””””” nature. There’s just something subversively fun about watching the same Reeves who plays action heroes left helpless and begging.
…de Armas dives into her role with the requisite, almost childlike, enthusiasm.
Both Lorenza Izzo (Green Inferno) and Ana de Armas (Knives Out) perfectly embody their roles as temptress and avenging angel, respectively. In particular, de Armas dives into her role with the requisite, almost childlike, enthusiasm. If she doesn’t look underage, she comes close convincing with her delivery and facial expressions. Roth-alum Izzo turns her character, Genesis, into the movie’s most interesting character. Yet like everything else about Knock Knock, Roth et al’s screenplay leaves a little too much up in the air and, as a result, Genesis feels unrealized as an antagonist.
Knock Knock Watchable But Misses Its Intended Mark
While the performances are strong across the board, and it has its moments, Knock Knock is a missed opportunity. Neither thrilling nor particularly biting, Roth’s Death Game update is watchable but not much else. Some viewers will likely enjoy the brief erotic threesome, and the ending arguably captures the dark humour intended for the movie as a whole. But everything in between feels pretty forgettable. This may be one case where Roth’s penchant for gore might be missed.