A film review by Craig J. Koban November 2, 2015


2015, R, 99 mins.


Keanu Reeves as Evan Webber  /  Lorenza Izzo as Genesis  /  Ana de Armas as Bel  /  Aaron Burns as Louis  /  Ignacia Allamand as Karen Alvarado  /  Colleen Camp as Vivian

Directed by Eli Roth  /  Written by Roth, Nicolás López, and Guillermo Amoedo

Eli Roth’s KNOCK KNOCK is either an intentionally campy home invasion/erotic thriller or an unintentionally hysterical one.  

Perhaps the main problem with this film is that it can’t really decide which hemisphere it resides in.  The core message of this sometimes mean-spirited, sometimes hilarious softcore effort is this: don’t cheat on your wife…or else!  Movies as old as FATAL ATTRACTION were preaching this message to the choir decades before KNOCK KNOCK came around, which leaves Roth’s effort lacking in genuine innovation.  Beyond its obvious lack of originality, the film does score some modest points in eliciting a vanity free, go-for-broke performance by star Keanu Reeves, whose arguably not been this entertainingly loose, uninhibited, and deliriously crazy in a film in recent memory. 

Based on the 1977 trashy exploitation flick DEATH GAME, KNOCK KNOCK shows Reeves in a role that’s the complete polar opposite of his lethally vengeful and stoic assassin in last year’s JOHN WICK.  He plays Evan, a very successful L.A. based architect that proverbially has it all: a gorgeous wife (Ignancia Allamand), an equally exquisite home, and two loving kids.  Things are not entirely rosy for Evan, though, seeing as he’s dealing with a very recent shoulder surgery that’s making him think about his advancing years, not to mention that he’s somewhat sexually frustrated with his spouse.  When she and the kids decide to venture out to the beach for a quick weekend getaway, Evan takes the much-needed opportunity for some me-time to work and reflect.  He opens up his turntable, puts some vintage Kiss records on, drinks some wine, and begins to focus in on a work project.  



Then there’s a knock on his door. 

Two very young and soaking wet women appear at his home.  Genesis (Lorenzo Izzo, wife of Roth) and Bel (Ana de Armas) have been stranded in the rain while trying to locate a nearby party.  Evan, trying to be a polite and well meaning, decides to let the ladies in to dry off and compose themselves while he calls for an Uber taxi to pick them up.  Very slowly, the two seemingly innocent young women strike up conversations with Evan about who he is, where he’s been, and what he does now…but it eventually becomes clear that their motives with him are rather impure.  Realizing – and targeting – Evan’s repressed sexual appetite and dissatisfaction, Bel and Genesis begin their lurid mind games with him until all three of them – yup – wind up naked in the shower together.  Within the blink of an eye, Evan has become an adulterer and has giving in to his primal urges. 

Things get worse.  Way, way worse.  In the morning Evan begins to realize the error of his ways and politely asks the girls to leave.  They decline.  He asks more forcefully again.  They forcefully decline.  Evan is beginning to fully understand the pressure cooker of a situation he’s in, but before he can even catch a breath Bel and Genesis have knocked him out cold and bind and gag him to his own bed.  They then proceed to really make themselves at home by ruthlessly trashing his house.  The nightmare for poor Evan continues when the girls reveal their real age (presumably) and threaten Evan with calling the cops and charging him with statutory rape if he doesn’t succumb to their twisted wishes.  Evan, rather predictably, frantically segues from anger and hostility to panic stricken hopelessness.  He has no other option but to let these sadistic women have their way with him…and that’s when the real hell breaks lose. 

Roth does a few things uncommonly well in KNOCK KNOCK, especially in the area of using Evan’s house almost as a secondary character.  In a virtuoso opening tracking shot, Roth takes viewers on a pseudo tour of Evan’s dwelling, replete with sumptuous abstract wall art and statues and that will become unwanted targets of Bel and Genesis’ reign of social terror later on in the film.  Roth also intuitively understands how to drum up tension in the first half of the film – its best half – by not rushing the core relationship between Evan and the young women.  Roth takes his time and patiently builds suspense between the easy-going Evan and the boisterous and hyperactive Bel and Genesis, which helps accentuate the insane crescendos that the screenplay builds up to later on.  A lesser thriller would have made these ladies aggressively hostile and violent right from the get-go, but Roth, systematically playing with our emotions and expectations, has a wiser game plan…at least initially. 

The performances by the trio of performers here are kind of thankless.  Izzo and de Armas do a tireless job making their sociopathic vixens wickedly cruel creatures of outright hostility.  They’re noisy, heartless and destructive monsters that find, shall we say, creative outlets to inflict physical and mental pain on poor Evan.  And Reeves also just kind of…well…goes for it without any pretensions of looking back either.  Part of the lurid and perverse enjoyment I had in watching KNOCK KNOCK was in witnessing Evan’s increasing break from sanity as he struggles to survive the non-stop onslaught of the girls’ malicious cerebral attacks.  There’s a point during the whole sordid proceedings when Reeves is allowed to bellow out a hateful monologue directed at his captors that, among other things, compares the sexual advances of Bel and Genesis to “Free pizza showing up at your door.”  Watching Reeves hysterically scream out this intoxicatingly foul diatribe – obviously coming from Evan’s soul crushing sense of despair – has to be seen to be believed.  I’ve rarely seen Reeves joyously shed so much dignity in a performance as he does here; he’s almost disturbingly hysterical at times. 

Unfortunately, part of the main issue I had with KNOCK KNOCK is that the absurd luridness of its second half doesn’t really match the natural effectiveness of its first half build-up towards it.  The longer the film progresses the more limitlessly insane the girls become in their behavior, which leaves any subtlety or depth that the characters could have possessed all but null and void.  Roth also seems to shy away from any level of meaningful commentary as to Bel and Genesis’ motivations: Do they specifically target shameful philanderers…and if so why?  Or, are they just fanatically bonkers and just randomly select their victims at the drop of a dime?  Even when the film culminates to a finale with some much needed revelations and answers...I never fully felt satisfied with them.  And don’t get me started on some of the borderline silly logical gaffes in the film.  For example, only in a fake movie universe would an Uber ride take as long as an hour to finally arrive at its destination.  Not only that, but considering the severity of the rainstorm…why wouldn’t Evan’s wife and kids return home from the beach…sooner? 

KNOCK KNOCK is fairly slick, well acted, skillfully constructed, and thoroughly intense…but as a whole the film never really pays off as well as it thinks it does.  As a cruel bit of torture porn, the film lacks a sizeable satirical bite, which leaves Roth’s effort here feeling more than a bit empty minded and sensationalistic.  That, and the film, again, awkwardly teeters between pure silliness and nerve-wracking horror to the point of distraction at times.  KNOCK KNOCK takes an old and overused Hollywood genre premise and rarely gets any new and invigorating mileage out of it.  

But it does have Reeves comparing his assailants to pizza.  It does have that.  

  H O M E