31 Days of Horror: Day 18
It’s been eight years since the controversial genre icon Eli Roth has had a film in theaters (not since 2007’s Hostel Part II). But 2015 has been very good to Mr. Roth, marking his theatrical return with not one but two very different films. His first film, The Green Inferno, is the long awaited and highly anticipated cannibal horror that has fans of the torture porn auteur salivating. His other film, Knock Knock, is a dramatic departure for the talented writer/director. Here, Roth trades his penchant for ultra-violent and gory horror in favor of a stylish, sexy thriller filled with black humor and a devious sense of playfulness.
Knock Knock, which Roth co-wrote with Nicolás López and Guillermo Amoedo, is apparently a remake of the obscure 1977 exploitation thriller Death Game directed by Peter Traynor. It’s a film that defies categorization; part sexy erotic thriller, part home invasion horror, part wickedly fun dark comedy. It’s completely insane and over-the-top, but in an irresistibly charming way.
Keanu Reeves is cast brilliantly against type as Ethan, the quintessential family man—loving husband and doting father. When his perfect family goes on the perfect weekend getaway, poor Ethan is stuck at home due to work. But his solitude is interrupted by an expected late night knock at the door. Standing on his doorstep, scantily clad and dripping wet, are two nubile damsels in distress. The lovely ladies, Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana De Armas), claim to be lost and stranded without a working phone. They charm their way into Evan’s home and, nice guy that he is, he helps them dry off and schedules an Uber driver to pick them up.
While the trio wait for the driver to arrive, delayed due to the raging storm outside, the girls begin to seduce the obviously uncomfortable Evan. The film goes out of its way to carefully set up what a “good” guy Ethan is. This helps create tension and stretch out the suspense of the setup as we watch him struggle to resist the increasingly aggressive flirtations of the two sexy lasses. Alas, while he puts up the noblest of fights, Ethan eventually succumbs when the temptation becomes too much to handle.
Don’t consider this a spoiler, as it’s pretty obvious from the beginning where this was headed. At this point, the climax (pardon the pun) of the slow burning opening act, we’re treated to a pretty steamy and artfully shot ménage-a-trois that temporarily makes you forget what kind of movie you’re supposed to be watching.
It’s this temporary moment of weakness that becomes the catalyst for the last half of the film when the wild party girls suddenly morph into a dangerous pair of sociopaths, and the object of their amorous affections becomes the object of their demented obsession. This is where the film switches gears from a sexy romp to a psychotic thrill ride.
When things get nuts, Izzo (Roth’s wife and star of The Green Inferno and Aftershock) and De Armas deliver knockout performances, managing to convey a deadly combination of playful innocence mixed with killer sex appeal and sadistic madness. The two starlets have electric chemistry together, playing off each other with impeccable comic timing and just the right amount of terrifying menace.
Likewise, Reeves delivers an uncharacteristic and utterly unforgettable performance. As the dire nature of his predicament comes into full focus, he completely loses his bearings and channels his inner Nic Cage. When his character gets backed into a corner, the script requires Reeves to rage against the manipulative vixens. He more than delivers with a balls-to-the-wall, no-holds-barred meltdown of epic proportions. When he starts screaming hysterically about “free pizza,” it’s true movie magic.
Roth branches out from his familiar, blood-soaked comfort zone and delivers a smart, sexy, darkly funny thriller that defies categorization. The film is helped considerably by impressive and memorable performances from the film’s three main leads.