Horror filmmaker Eli Roth’s “Knock Knock” is a semi-stretch for him and his star, Keanu Reeves. The former Neo and current John Wick plays Evan, a wealthy, happily married family man who, on a dark and stormy night alone, invites two young, attractive women into his home. They need a ride home, their clothes are wet and Evan, a gracious but visibly uncomfortable host, welcomes their company but grows uneasy with their overt flirtation. Eventually, he caves and the three engage in sex acts. The next morning, Evan wants to put this mistake behind him but the girls refuse to leave.
The set-up is great, with a nice, slow build establishing the setting, Evan’s family life and the increasing sexual tension that accumulates between Evan and his guests. Roth tones down his tendency for ultra-violence and excels at capturing an atmosphere both pristine and scarily remote.
Not helping matters is that only one of the two actresses is very good. Lorenza Izzo (the director’s wife) has one of those smiles than can be either traffic stopping or truly diabolical and her character’s behavioral turns are unsettling. On the other hand, Ana de Armas, playing her partner in crime, is weak throughout. Once its established that the girls want to play a “game” with Evan, the sequence feels silly and overdone, rather than a psychological mind game with a great deal at stake.
Reeves is as good as the material allows, finding strong moments in the midst of inevitably melodramatic demands of the role. He has an extended monolog, in which he compares the temptation of young women to pizza, that all but makes him a guarantee Worst Actor award nominee at next year’s Razzie’s. Otherwise, I found him fascinating to watch in the role. Reeves is well cast as an artist and as a playful, attentive Dad and I found his plight engaging. Near the end, the movie lets down his performance as much as his acting.
The ending is surprising, especially since the outcome seems so inevitable, yet, this doesn’t resonate like it should. Compared to the terrifying “The Strangers” or the painful “Funny Games,” this home invasion thriller lacks teeth. It should have been devastating or at least funnier. Instead, as the girls become more caustic (and obnoxious) and Evan’s situation becomes increasingly dire, I was frustrated by how limited the structure and story turns are. Three people wrote this but, after a solid 40 minutes, it abandons lean, carefully structured filmmaking and storytelling in favor of a half-baked update of “Fatal Attraction.”
There’s a verbal and visual insistence on comparing the two intruders to little girls (at one point, they’re seen at a playground); little comes of this, unless Roth is trying to demonize the sort of bratty, insensitive tweens who once idolized Britney Spears. Had Evan done more than give into his lust and actually had a menacing quality, it would have given Reeves more to play with. Instead, in order for this to be seen as anything more than a bout of controlled self destruction, the audience would have to side with the mindset of the girls, which is impossible.
I doubt Roth fully considered the potential for subtext. The moral is too on-the-nose obvious: infidelity will lead to the figurative and literal destruction of one’s home and family. We get it. Instead of evoking Hitchcock, Roth’s Consequences of Sin morality tale makes him more like the new Tyler Perry.
Knock Knock is not currently playing on Maui but is available on Video On Demand formats.