Eli Roth, who disappeared from the world of feature film directing after 2007’s Hostel: Part II, now has seen two of his features release in the same year, only mere days apart. The Green Inferno marked Roth’s return to gratuitous gore, which I found to be a (somewhat) gleeful return to form, but I can’t say Knock Knock continues his charge back into the foreground of genre filmmaking. It’s a very different movie, aiming for a psycho-sexual thriller vibe over cannibalistic carnage, but Roth’s signature humor manages to comes through as always. He’s a man who never likes to be taken seriously, but maybe some restraint could have helped this time around, steering lead actor Keanu Reeves away from a special brand of terribleness that only Nic Cage can pull off with ease.
Reeves plays a family man named Evan, who’s left home from a family beach vacation so he can get some last-minute work done. While hammering out an architectural design one night, two hot young things knock on Evan’s door looking for someone else, but only find his generosity. Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas) are rain-soaked, cold, and left with no options, so Evan invites them in while they wait for an Uber. The girls immediately start flirting with Evan, and after the faithful husband fights off almost all of their sexual advances, he embraces a night of sinful pleasure – but that’s not the end. Genesis and Bel show up again the next night, this time to punish Evan for his infidelity. Evan swears he’s a good man, but all these two “crazy bitches” see is another lousy, no good cheater.
Knock Knock is a hopeful B-Movie in the making, but it feels like Roth is striving for cult madness incredibly too hard. If we’ve learned anything from previous filmmakers who attempted to force cult success, it’s that these types of overnight hits happen without intention. If you intentionally want something to be bad, nine times out of ten, “badness” will be achieved without any of the comedy hoped for. Knock Knock is in no way incompetent filmmaking, but it’s like Roth’s production is in on a joke that none of the audience members know.
Keanu Reeves does his best Nic Cage impression for Roth, channeling the YouTub-compilation-worthiness of The Wicker Man through an inspired mix of goofy monster imitations, an unpredictable, always fluctuating personality, and comparisons to free pizza that will be quoted forever. In short spurts, Reeves is utterly hilarious, but Roth has absolutely no control over a lead character whose delivery is cringe-worthy, in a trainwreck kind of way you can’t ignore. “So bad it’s good” is certainly a term that can be used here, but Reeves’ acting transcends a realm of acting that’s more horrendous than addictive. In one defining moment, Evan realizes what’s going on and utters a simple “What the fuck!” – a line we can all relate to.
For what Izzo and Armas are asked to do, they are extremely watchable. They start out as coy little pixies, filled with sweetness and innocence, and then turn into maniacal feminist warriors who only want to reveal the ugliest side of men. Don’t think there’s a message here besides “all men are pigs,” but Roth does make an attempt to showcase an extreme exaggeration of how woman think all men act (apparently). These chicks are nothing but sexual objects at first glance, but as the film evolves into a preachy(?) tale of Cheaters gone wrong, we wait for them to become anything more than sexy pieces of ass. Yet, no matter how much they torture Reeves, their sexual overcoats are never shed, and the film never becomes anything more than cheap late-night thrills.
Therein lies the problem – cheap thrills are a slice of Heaven when executed properly. Hell, just look at the movie Cheap Thrills! But Knock Knock is an empty thriller built on something that sounded hilariously demented in theory. “Keanu Reeves having a scintillating encounter with two women who eventually turn into his worst nightmare” is something I’d dream about (cinematically), but Knock Knock just isn’t the right movie to turn my fantasy into reality. It’s sloppy, grating, and much flatter than it has any right to be – not to mention it’s hindered by a strange twist that adds nothing to the male vs. female fight on hand. This is not the wacky insanity we deserve from such talents, and it’s a damn shame.
Knock Knock is a midnight movie that never comes to fruition, wasting a stellar concept and cast on forced B-movie antics that are far too unfunny for Roth's talents.