There’s no doubting that the tandem of horror maestro Eli Roth and Keanu Reeves is an intriguing one, especially when both of them are right in the middle of a resurgence in their careers. Roth, who hadn’t directed a feature film since 2007’s Hostel: Part II, seems to be attached to everything right now with two films releasing this year (The Green Inferno, Knock Knock) and the long-delayed shark epic Meg coming in 2017. And then there’s Keanu Reeves who delivered last year’s bullet-spraying badass John Wick, becoming an instant action icon (they’re filming the sequel this fall!). So it’s easy to see why the two of them teaming up for some psychological warfare in Knock Knock was a no-brainer.
Knock Knock is a psychologically-fueled home invasion thriller that feels a lot like a less effective Funny Games, just without the skin-crawling fourth wall breaking. But where Roth makes it interesting is that there’s a couple of evil-doing girls behind the dirty deeds. Unfortunately, that’s about as interesting as this one gets. In it, a devoted husband and father is left home alone for the weekend when two stranded young women unexpectedly knock on his door for help. What starts out as a kind gesture results in a dangerous seduction and a deadly game of cat and mouse.
What surprised me was just how long this one takes to really get rolling, and I think a lot of that had to do with Roth trying build suspense and tension before leading us right into the evil grip of two mysterious girls. The issue I had with that, however, is that it never hit either of those notes because we already know exactly where Knock Knock is headed. Usually that’s not such a bad thing, but one hour and a sweaty threesome later, the movie starts to feel like a chore.
Once all the groundwork (and Keanu Reeves) has been laid, the film finally starts to show signs of a pulse. The girls—Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas—are these wonderfully wicked characters who are just as good at seducing as they are at being evil and they quickly go to work on Reeves’ Evan as soon as he falls into their trap. One thing Roth has proven over the years is that he knows his way around the genre when it comes to making his characters suffer, which is why it’s baffling that the torture scenes are so tame and uninspired—Evan’s constant inability to escape a couple of girls half his size was… interesting.
And while the real horror of the film pales in comparison to Roth’s previous films, we are treated to a truly bat-shit crazy performance by Reeves.put it best in his review when he said that Reeves goes full Cage in this one, because he really does! It’s definitely one of his strangest and most weirdly entertaining performances to date, that’s for sure. Again, though, the film ultimately underwhelms in the one part it should have excelled at. I know that Roth was trying his hand at something different here, but he should have leaned on his strengths a little more. The big thing that was missing in Knock Knock was tension and the real, gruesome style of horror that he’s known for.
But there is certainly some good here—I particularly loved Izzo and Armas’ characters, and watching them mentally destroy Evan was pretty entertaining. They retain this mysteriousness throughout the entire film, which works because they give you just enough information behind their motive to piece together a backstory; the fact that we know so little about them also makes their characters that much more powerful.
I’m torn on this one, folks. It’s an interesting film from Roth who introduces some fun elements to the ever-popular home invasion genre, but it just never clicks and ultimately underwhelms where it should have found its stride and ran away with the premise of two gorgeously evil girls putting one unlucky soul through hell.