Knock Knock (2015)

One night can cost you everything

A far cry from Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) or The Green Inferno (2013), Knock Knock sees the prolific cult-horror writer-director deviate from his notorious trademark material — gore-spectacles typically infused with puerile humor — in favor of psychological terror (a welcome change if you ask me); the result, a sadistic yet kinky home-invasion chiller in the tradition of German filmmaker Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997), though with a much higher dose of sexual content.

Have you seen this sitcom?
Have you seen this sitcom?

Keanu Reeves stars as happily married architect Evan Webber, a devoted father, loving husband and committed family man. Sustaining a shoulder injury (for reasons unknown), Evan decides to stay home over the Father’s Day weekend while his beautiful wife, Karen (Ignacia Allamand) — a successful artist — and two young children, Jake and Lisa (siblings Dan and Megan Baily), go off on a planned family trip to the beach. Alone in his palatial and luxurious home — well almost alone, with his only companion being the family dog, Monkee — Evan works on renderings for an ongoing house project.

That evening however, Evan is in for a major shake-up when he hears an unexpected ‘knock’ coming from his front door. Answering the ‘call,’ Evan sees two stranded, gorgeous young women, Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas), standing out in the cold on his doorstep, soaking from the heavy rainfall and alarming storm. The girls apologize for their disturbance, revealing that they are, in fact, looking for an address of a party, mistaking Evan’s residence as their designated spot. Having no means of communication — their phones wet from the rain — Evan invites the ladies inside to dry off, giving them access to the Internet in order to pinpoint the party’s whereabouts, while he phones up a taxi to chauffeur the ‘hotties’ to their get-together. Following a simple gesture on Evan’s part, what starts out as a surreal and seemingly random twist of fate quickly escalates, resulting in dangerous seduction as the ‘home-wreckers’ attempt to sexually entice a married man, in turn initiating a deadly game of cat-and-mouse — one that could cost Evan everything.

Beginning with a far-reaching helicopter sweep of the Hollywood Hills that takes the action into the one-location confides of a deluxe and spacious home, Knock Knock is possibly Roth’s most subdued and ‘mature’ film to date. Realized through gliding camera movements and modish compositions, Knock Knock, all things considered, looks rather polished — bare in mind, the flick was produced on a relatively modest budget and shot entirely in Chile, South America.

Girls just wanna have guns!
Girls just wanna have guns!

In the spirit of she-devil home-invasion films such as Kitten with a Whip (1964), Knock Knock has been loosely adapted from the 1977 film Death Game — penned by Anthony Overman and Michael Ronald — and modernized for the screen by co-writer Roth, along with his now-regular collaborators Nicolás López, Aftershock (2012), and Guillermo Amoedo, The Green Inferno (2013), who have reshaped this dark and twisted psychosexual thriller into a Fatal Attraction (1989) for the Millennials. Taking into account Roth’s ‘bloody’ CV, Knock Knock is pretty tame in comparison; it at least features the genre filmmaker’s trademark insanity, just without all the carnage and slaughter. In its place Roth has substituted bloodshed for psychological torment and for the most part it generally works.

There’s something to be said about the powerful concepts in place here as the bold and frantic script at least attempts to penetrate brave new territory, making challenging observations about generational discrepancy, particularly the way in which sexual intercourse, eroticism, sexuality and the sanctity of marriage are viewed, with the subjects of pedophilia and incest also toyed with. On the flip side, the social commentary is a little too blunt and noisy, undermining any of the film’s subtlety; we have an in-your-face message illustrating how adult men ‘supposedly’ sexualize school-age-girls (or are at least aroused by the idea of provocative teenage women) and a lewd and explicit shower threesome scene posing the question as to whether or not a seemingly fictitious ‘family man’ would succumb to such temptation if taunted with the prospect — scenes that are not the least bit restraint or suggestive.

Mirrors can serve many useful purposes, on reflection.
Mirrors can serve many useful purposes, on reflection.

Now this makes for some outright tense and uncomfortable moments, cringe-worthy sequences of emotional manipulation, nihilistic vandalism, physical abuse and perverse mind games. The satirical torture caused by the girls sees male fantasies and sexual desires coil and contort into callous nightmares — an innovatively evil setup that sees Evan tortured by means of blaring headphone-volume sticks out, whereas a scene in which Evan is tied to his bed (via the bedposts) then seduced by Bel, who’s wearing his daughter’s school uniform and panties, may be a bit too stomach-churning for some. Sure, Knock Knock is perhaps depraved, indecorous and mean-spirited, but it unfolds with such intrinsic insensitivity that it’s difficult to turn away; I for one found the whole thing freakishly entertaining — albeit a tad unsettling.

With much of the foreplay to Evan’s impetuous lack of judgement being cleverly choreographed, and the squeamish bar set to max once havoc ensues, Knock Knock is blood-curdling stuff, even if the cliché beats aren’t effective enough to overcome the film’s misguided goofy tone, cheesy dialogue and overt plotting flaws. Fortunately, the contest of strength between Evan and the bewitching yet lethal seductresses is always shifting, with the audience constantly and continually switching sides — though our leading man’s not really given much of a fighting chance. Either way, Knock Knock might carry enough of a spark (and controversial subject matter) to ignite a heated debate.

Keanu Reeves, John Wick (2014), stars as host-turned-hostage Evan Webber, a surprising career move by the veteran actor who’s chosen to headline an Eli Roth ‘shocker.’ Experience aside, Reeves drops the ball here and fails to give a wholly nuanced performance. Reeves’ routine is a bit uneven; at times he’s competent — suitably earnest and wide-eyed, visibly anxious from the groping girls, fawning over his 43-year-old physique and disk-jockey skills — however, he’s over-the-top, embarrassing and just plain flat in others — Reeves playing ‘monster’ with his kids is just one of many painfully unpleasant moments audiences are forced to endure. It’s as if Reeves didn’t know how to handle the role — but hey, he does what he can I guess.

'Happy Birthday, Mr. President ...'
‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President …’

Bouncing well off Reeves’ unease and awkwardness, it’s the femme fatales who really elevate this one, the refreshingly mesmeric leading ladies bringing complexity to the sociopathic tendencies of their loony on-screen abandon. Beside their questionable motives, these vixens — stepping into a role that’s traditionally more male orientated — totally steal the show, with their palpable charisma, poisonous chemistry and sheer insanity coercing the narrative. Reteaming with Roth for a fourth outing, real-life wife Lorenza Izzo — who co-stared with the filmmaker in Aftershock (2012) and starred in his The Green Inferno (2013) — plays wild-heart Genesis, a broken young woman who’s clearly gone through her fair share of hardships. Steering the agonizing game that sees Evan ‘put through the wringer,’ Izzo reaches such profound levels, exhibiting a deep-rooted, discontent feministic aura in her commanding display of emotions. Alongside Izzo, the dazzling Cuban-born Spanish actress Ana de Armas, Blind Alley (2011), is innocently alluring as siren Bel (the blonde, more attractive fox), who’s more empathetic than her ‘sister in crime,’ but shares an equally unstable ‘deranged’ state of mind — de Armas is electrifying here and really needs to land herself more key roles.

Outside of Knock Knock’s principal cast, Aaron Burns, The Green Inferno (2013), adds a homoerotic twist to proceedings as Karen’s queer assistant Louis, who gets caught up in the ill-fated mischief after popping over to relocate a sculpture for an upcoming gallery exhibition, while Colleen Camp, who played Donna in the ’70s grindhouse movie parallel, Death Game, pops up for a quaint little cameo.

Ironically, she's about to kill with that 'Thou shalt not kill' commandment.
Ironically, she’s about to kill with that ‘Thou shalt not kill’ commandment.

Sleek, sexy and risqué, Knock Knock is a cautionary tale, one that warns viewers of the dangers of offering warmth and shelter to strangers on a dark and blustery night. Exploring themes that cross cultural and social borders Knock Knock dabbles in the hazards of sexual impulses and how these urges can unleash destructive forces, with Roth inanely conveying this damage as he lets the ‘girls gone wild’ run rampant all over the unfortunate, unwary victim of circumstance and his playhouse. While not overly original, Knock Knock is affably acted — thanks to the badass babes — and well directed — as far as B-movies go — with Roth irreverently revamping this iniquitous, long-forgotten hair-raiser for the social media generation. Despite its inherent flaws and tacky nature, I thoroughly enjoyed this delicious little thrill ride — probably a smidgen more than I should have!

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by S-Littner

Knock Knock is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia