If you think you know exactly what to expect with an Eli Roth film, I offer up Knock Knock as Exhibit A of evidence that he has some unexpected sides to his writing and directing. An exercise in restraint, this small scale thriller is as effective as Roth’s horror outings, but much more interested in tension and defying expectations. As mentioned previously when talking about the filmmaker, I think he’s very talented and gets a bit of a raw deal because of his subject matter, but this movie is a strong example of how he can make a classical thriller with callbacks to the films of yore. Plus, he gets to unleash Keanu Reeves in the sort of role we haven’t seen him play in some time. Knock Knock is certainly genre fare, but it’s well done and especially from Roth, is something new. As a one two punch with The Green Inferno (which I recently reviewed here), it’s a fascinating look at how a director can use multiple tools in order to subtly or at times not so subtly manipulate an audience. Things get a little bit silly in the third act, but for at least the first half of this flick, Roth weaves a tight web of menace and tension that’s easy to admire. Knock Knock is a little movie, but one with a lot going on that you can enjoy.
The plot of Knock Knock very much fits in with some of Roth’s other work, essentially following a protagonist in an opening act that more closely resembles a different genre than horror or in this case thriller. Here we have husband and father Evan Webber (Reeves) wakes up on Father’s Day, he’s hoping for some intimate time with his wife. His children interrupt though, and family time begins. Soon though, Evan is left alone to work and enjoy a quiet evening, one that won’t stay quiet for long. The wife and kids may be away for the night, but Evan gets a knock at the door as the rain pours down. It’s two attractive young girls, Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas). They claim they’re looking for a party and are lost, so Evan invites them in. What starts as a fairly innocent good deed gets dirtier when the two ladies begin slowly seducing Evan. He resists for a while, but eventually he gives in. The next morning, he wakes up and realizes what he did, though that guilt is only the start of his problems. I won’t say what happens with him and the girls, but it’s not quite what you’d expect. Instead of gore, Roth is trafficking in tension here, something that serves the film quite well.
Keanu Reeves appears to be having a ton of fun here, which helps make the performance as memorable as it is. This might not seem like a compliment, but it is…he’s channeling a bit of Nicolas Cage in his mannerisms. It fits the material though, allowing Reeves toppled and have an utter ball. Roth turns him loose and he reminds us that this actor has more than his share of talent. Is he over the top at times? Sure, but again, it fits. Ana de Armas is a bit over the top as well, but with slightly less success (de Armas is solid, but her character is a bit of a weak link). More successful is Roth muse Lorena Izzo, who is emerging as an up and coming star. Between this and The Green Inferno, you can see the range that Izzo displays. As an antagonist, she’s cunning and rather captivating to watch. Seeing the cat and mouse game between her and Reeves develop is a blast. Those three are really the only cast members of note, though the supporting players here also include Ignacia Allamand, Aaron Burns, and Colleen Camp. Reeves and Izzo are the stars though, that much is clear.
Co-writer/director Eli Roth knows how to disassemble a human body on screen as well as anyone else, but he displays a whole different set of skills here. There’s some great long takes winding throughout the house where most of the film is set, which is a credit to his direction as well as cinematographer Antonio Quercia. The script he co-wrote with Guillermo Amoedo and Nicolás López (inspired by Anthony Overman and Michael Ronald Ross‘s screenplay for Death Game) is tight and mostly without fat, helping to keep the focus solely on the tension and discomfort of the situation. Roth’s ability to get a strong performance out of Reeves helps to make Knock Knock the success that it is. He focused on genre fare of the past and it served him very well.
To be fair, Knock Knock is hardly high art, but not every film needs to be. This movie is dark, entertaining, and just the right amount of uncomfortable. Fans of Roth will enjoy seeing him try something new (and succeed), while fans of Reeves will dig getting to see him be the focus of something unique like this. The flick won’t change the world, but it will help to get Roth some higher profile work. If you like tight little thrillers, then Knock Knock is something to definitely check out…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!