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Here we go again. Less than a month after The Green Inferno, Eli Roth is back, back, back! He has scaled back from the Amazon rainforest to a small-scale home-invasion thriller and added a bona fide star in the form of Keanu Reeves. Knock, Knock is Roth’s attempt to inverse the gender roles and make a thriller in the vein of the excellent Hard Candy. So has Eli Roth finally managed to grow up and live up to his potential as a filmmaker? Not quite, but there are improvements.
Keanu Reeves, on a high after John Wick, stars as a happily married family man. We know this, because the walls of his beautiful hilltop mansion are plastered with giant photographs of himself and his children (does anyone actually do this? – it looks creepy to me). He is happy indeed – very happy – when his children surprise him in bed for Father’s Day. A few hours later, Keanu is working at home by himself when he hears the titular knock on the door. Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas), two beautiful teenagers, got lost on their way to a party and need to use the phone. Once inside, their behaviour begins to change as they begin to flirt with an initially reluctant Keanu. And, sure enough, the happily married family man cannot resist a no-strings-attached threesome and caves in. The next morning, the girls behave differently. Keanu finds them in the kitchen, where they have made a huge mess. Eggs on the floor are however only the beginning. Soon, their sinister intentions are revealed: punish Keanu for his infidelity and make him suffer as much as possible.
The main idea behind Knock Knock is actually quite interesting. There is a lot to be said about male fantasies and the sexualization of women. This is exactly where the film falls short: Eli Roth fails to subvert the male gaze. The point of the story is that women take charge and punish the patriarch for his hypocrisy, yet the camera remains ostensibly male. Instead of destroying the male fantasy, Eli Roth unintentionally fetishises it in an uncomfortable manner. His gaze continues to focus on the girls’ bodies after the tables have been turned; even after their age is questioned. The film also fails to rationalize their plan or justify their questionable methods. They are trying to prove that men are douchebags who are bound to give into temptation, but why go this far when a simple phone call to the wife would ruin his life? Are we supposed to enjoy the torture because he deserves it? None of these questions are resolved.
The story itself is not the strongest. The beginning is slow and the third act quickly runs out of surprises. The most entertaining thing about Knock Knock is Keanu Reeves’ performance. As the torture continues, he transforms into Nic Cage in full-lunatic mode. It’s unfair to blame him for the stiff dialogue, but I honestly can not think of a worse Keanu Reeves performance. His attempts to scream in pain are so bad, it’s genuinely funny. Knock Knock is a slight improvement on The Green Inferno, but Eli Roth still has some growing up to do.