IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 99 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Ex-DJ Evan Webber seems to have a great life. He’s a very successful architect, lives in a beautiful California home, has two kids and a lovely wife who is a painter and a sculptor. One afternoon, his wife Karen and their kids go to the beach but due to a shoulder injury Evan has to stay at home and decides to work instead. It’s raining, he’s alone with a bottle of wine and some very loud music….and there’s a knock at the door. He goes to answer it and finds two pretty young girls called Genesis and Bel standing in the cold. They’re drenched, lost and just want to come in to dry off and use the phone. But as the girls await a taxi that will take them to a party, they start to make themselves at home and seem to be trying to seduce Evan….
It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been whole eight years since Eli Roth’s last feature film. Hostel 2 disappointed many folk in various ways, but I did feel at the time of its release, and still do feel, that Roth’s direction was a lot more confident and even stylish on it than on his previous two films. I was eagerly looking forward to what film he would make next, and am still looking forward to seeing The Green Inferno when it finally escapes from distributor hell [there does now appear to be some light at the end of the tunnel on that one]. In the mean time, he’s turned out another film, but, while I genuinely think that his cannibal picture could be quite something and finally be a movie from Eli Roth that actually fulfils its potential and doesn’t disappoint towards the end [isn’t there a first time for everything?], I have to sadly say that Knock Knock is something of a misfire. It had its good moments, has a premise that is good – or rather a premise that could have been good if the writers had actually thought it through a bit – and – would you believe it [I can’t believe I’m typing these words]? – it has a rather good performance from Keanu Reeves who really makes the most of the role he’s been given. Despite being in a lot of good films, some of which are genuine favourites of mine, he does to my eyes and ears tend to be a pretty lousy performer who every now and again has the good luck to land a part which seems to suit him to a tee. The role of Evan Webber is an atypical one for him, but he really does it justice. I certainly don’t agree with comments that he’s over the top – wouldn’t most men be in they were in his character’s position?
Coming across at times as a mutated offspring of Funny Games and Fatal Attraction, Knock Knock [which isn’t anything to do with the slasher of the same title from 2007] is actually a remake of a 1977 picture called Death Game. Doc hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing this film, but he’s going to try to obtain a copy and report back [Watch This Space!] because he has a feeling that it’s a lot better than Roth’s rather muddled and even misguided effort. The premise seems like it would better suit a grimy, grungy 70’s aesthetic than the ‘modern’ clean-looking gloss of the remake. The original film starred Sandra Locke and Colleen Camp, both of whom seem to have had a hand in, or are at least credited on, the remake, and Camp even has a rather memorable and appropriately, given her name, campy cameo in this version. One thing I should say is that Knock Knock’s trailer is a little misleading, giving the impression that it’s far more exciting and even terrifying than it actually is. Of course all trailers are supposed to make the film they are promoted look good, but I need to warn you now that there are disappointingly few thrills and a great deal of footage just seems to be taken up by two girls making a mess out of somebody’s lovely house.
Like Hostel, to which it bears quite a resemblance if you think about it, Knock Knock is basically a film of two halves, the slow first half a gradual preamble to the [supposed] terror of the second half. The first half of Knock Knock actually works rather well despite having a really annoying scene [and Keanu does look a bit uncomfortable in it] near the beginning when Evan pretends to be a monster to his family. The film nicely sets up Evan to be a decent man who does what ought to be the decent thing and lets two stranded strangers into his house out of the rain. The fact that they are young, female and pretty could possibly be neither here nor there, though throughout this first half Roth and his co-writers Guilermo Amoeda and Nicolas Lopez seem to be asking the male viewer what he would do in the circumstances that Evan finds himself in. The staging of some of these early scenes is quite clever, especially the way that Evan seems to find himself hemmed in on both sides by the two girls and constantly has to extract himself. When he finds them naked in the shower, their seduction of him is quite forceful and we don’t dislike [well, I didn’t, anyway] the guy too much for agreeing to their demands for a threesome. The initial shower sex is interestingly photographed through the window of the shower so all we can make out is flashes of arms and boobs [mostly boobs].
All seems fine, but then Genesis and Bel start making themselves rather too much at home, show that they have a complete lack of respect for art, and just don’t want to leave. Eventually Evan drives them to their house, and thinks he’s rid of them, but after cleaning up the mess they’ve left, they reappear, one of them conks him on the head and he wakes up tied to a bed. For a short while, the film seems to be getting genuinely bold and disturbing with a scene where one of the girls demands Evan have sex with her while she’s wearing his daughter’s clothes [the only scene that for me seemed like it justified the film getting an ‘18’ certificate], but it soon becomes apparent that nothing overly interesting or thrilling is going to happen and yet again we are getting a Roth film that, despite being written with other hands, seems to chicken out and go more for laughs than anything else. Yes, we get a torture scene [you’d think Roth would have got this out of his system by now], but the feeling of major disappointment left by the film can be summed up by mentioning how, near the end, it seems that we’re going to get some real excitement with a deadly game of hide and seek, but the scene is over almost just after it’s began! A mild twist near the end just doesn’t work at all though the second to final scene is definitely very chucklesome in a twisted way.
There seems to be a sort of feminist agenda going on here despite the writers being male, but of course they want to have it both ways in the presentation of the two girls and we’ll left with a film that appears to half-heartedly delve into gender politics but ends up just being silly and even insulting. All the scenes of Evan being terrorised end up having no real context because we learn little to nothing about Genesis and Bel and why they do what they do – okay, we learn some important background information about one of them, but that’s really it. Some of their actions – why do stuff that will hurt people that aren’t your targets? – make no sense whatsoever despite the surprisingly strong performances of Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas who seem really willing to be taken to some really dark places by the material but end up being sorely let down by it. It’s all just so superficial and the whole thing is best taken more as a black comedy than anything else, though Roth doesn’t really have a light enough touch for humour. He seems to be making an effort with this film to hold back on the brutality – even the one death scene is almost bloodless – but his direction is slick but uninteresting, failing to even make anything of the main house setting which had a lot of potential considering its size and design, though it’s the writing that lets this film down more than anything else.
Knock Knock cannot at all be said to be a terrible picture and if you’re bored it’s a half decent time waster [especially, I feel, at home rather than at the cinema] and does prove that Keanu actually possesses some good acting chops. A few touches do really shine, like on the three occasions that cinematographer Antonio Quercia’s camera tracks through the house, each time representing a different state in the crumbling of Evan’s life. This really could and should have been much better though, especially with its final half hour which really needed totally rewriting before it was shot. If Death Game hadn’t already existed, I would have said that Knock Knock could almost do with a remake itself at some point, though that’s not something I should really be saying in the current climate.