Mark Reviews Movies

Knock Knock


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Eli Roth

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas, Ignacia Allamand, Aaron Burns

MPAA Rating: R (for disturbing violent behavior, strong sexual content, nudity and language)

Running Time: 1:39

Release Date: 10/9/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 8, 2015

Another movie from director Eli Roth means another unwelcome peek into his worldview. What's surprising, though, is that Knock Knock is quite tame by Roth's usual, blood-and-gore-soaked standards, or at least it's tame in terms of blood and/or gore. A character is stabbed with a fork here, but that's about it. When the character is stabbed with that eating utensil, it matters, too, because Roth and his fellow co-screenwriters Nicolás López and Guillermo Amoedo have established that the character already has been injured where he's stabbed. Who does the stabbing and under what circumstances it occurs establish a karmic instance of adding insulting injury to embarrassing injury.

On the occasions that it does occur, the violence here has a purpose that goes beyond showing us violence for its own sake. That's a promising step forward for Roth, and yes, it's a baby step. After the director's previous forays into intentionally trying to get us to flinch or more at scenes of depraved violence that exists for the sole purpose of getting us to flinch or more, we should take what we get from him. Under the circumstances, a baby step will do just fine.

Another surprise about the movie is that, for a while, it seems as if no one will be stabbed or otherwise attacked. The movie begins as and grows quite comfortable being a comedy of manners. It's broadly written, staged, and performed, and that's the way it should be.

The comic setup is an old one: How should a host treat one's guests? The host here is Evan Webber (Keanu Reeves, in a smartly telling performance that lets us know we're watching a comedy, even as the circumstances take a turn for the devious). He's an architect who is happily married to Karen (Ignacia Allamand). They have two children, who interrupt the couple's amorous morning play to celebrate Father's Day. Evan and Karen still have the spark, but maybe the fact that he has been keeping track of the weeks since they last had sex is a sign of some frustration. She has been busy with her own work as an artist, preparing for a show of her most recent creation at a gallery.

Karen and the kids go away for a weekend vacation, leaving Evan to finish an important project. There's a knock at the door late at night, and he opens it to discover Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas), two attractive young women dressed for a party in short skirts and sheer shirts, standing in the rain. They're lost, and they need Evan's help finding their way to the party.

Evan lets them use his computer tablet. He calls them a car to get them to their destination. He puts their wet clothes in the dryer and offers them robes. They ask him questions about his life, and he makes sure to emphasize the words "my wife" and "my kids" while he answers. They start talking about sex and how monogamy goes against human beings' animal instincts. They sit next to him, with their hands finding their way to his arm, shoulder, and chest, so he moves to a chair on the other side of the room. Still, when Bel starts dancing to an album she finds in his collection, Evan can't help but show off his DJ skills.

What is the proper etiquette in this situation? It's a silly question, but that's why the comedy works as well as it does. Evan, finding himself in a battle between his devotion to his family and the promise of a sexual fantasy come to life, is clearly leaning toward fulfillment of the latter option, despite his protests, which become less and less sincere as things move toward the inevitable. A wickedly amusing idea arises as the movie gets closer to that inevitability: Would it be rude not to commit adultery with these two young women, considering that he, as the host, should provide his guests with what they want?

Once Evan has made his decision (There's some debate here, presented by an unreliable arbiter in the case, that the decision was made for him), the screenplay remains light and becomes even goofier as the perfect houseguests become ones of the absolute worst variety (Izzo and de Armas are really funny in these scenes, especially the way Genesis employs a bottle of maple syrup). The guests take a 180-degree turn for the obnoxious and immature, but now the question of hospitality has a component of obligation—and possibly legal responsibility—to it.

Alas, the intentions of pure comedy don't last for long, and the movie becomes a fairly routine series of torture scenes and bursts of violence. Again, there's a purpose to them, but that purpose becomes more than a bit confused as we learn of the guests' malicious plan and the twisted reason behind it. Roth and his co-screenwriters' focus is on sympathizing with the wrongs committed against Evan, leaving the female characters to be stereotypically insane and vengeful. There's an attempt at moral equivalency in Knock Knock, since both parties have sinned. It's insincere when one party is bound and tortured, while the other party does the binding and torturing.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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