Knock Knock, flatly directed with nothing more than a point and shoot receptivity by Eli Roth, is a morality tale in the shallowest, most obvious sense. It raggedly traces itself along the path of films like 1987’s Fatal Attraction, 1977’s Deadly Game, 2002’s largely solid Unfaithful and Takashi Miike’s controversial, and equally overrated, Audition from 1999.
The feature desperately wants to comment on what happens when men become gravitate to adultery. Regardless, it has nothing new whatsoever to say about the subject.
We are left with only what lies on the surface of the subject matter alone to fill in the gaps for the substance it only vaguely touches upon.
Alas, this is a three person show. Because of such it comes off vastly like a filmed bit of theater. Even with such a character-driven focus the words it wants to say on being unfaithful seem stuck in its cinematic throat and, ultimately, tossed aside in favor of its various, trite attempts at suspense.
Roth’s latest, released a mere two weeks after his similarly underwhelming The Green Inferno, wants to be thrilling, fun, alluring and playful. Instead the pedestrian, exhausted stops it takes throughout its ninety-nine minutes are too predictable and unflinchingly formulaic to generate such a reaction.
It is wisely meticulous in pace. This suggests the slow burner terror feature that has proven successful in similar movie set-ups that we never fully receive.
What also hinders its stabs at singularity is that it is inwardly and outwardly cut and copied from the cloth of far too many made-for- TV features. Mournfully, it is most in the vein of one you would find playing in late evening on The Lifetime Channel.
This familiarity, its inability to ever become quite as unbridled as it silently assures, allows it to ever be anything more than an occasionally amusing distraction.
In this pallid brew of 1992’s Basic Instinct and home invasion yarn, Keanu Reeves, fresh from his critical and commercial success in 2014’s otherwise indistinguishable actioner John Wick, plays Evan Webber. His portrayal, in keeping with the modus he established 1984 with his first ever role in the television series Hangin’ In, resonates with the zombie rising from his tomb stiffness you’d expect from someone with his practically non-existent acting range.
Webber is a forty-three year old former DJ. Finding himself in his house alone one night a duo of young girls knock on his door and ask to come in from the rain. The rest of the plot need not be explained as anyone who has seen more than one Roth feature or late night cable presentation can tell precisely where this is going. As can be easily ascertained: the duo ends up gleefully torturing Reeves for the bulk of the second half of the picture for being disloyal to his wife and family in ways that ebb and flow with inventive fervor.
Co-written by both of the auteurs of The Green Inferno, Guillermo Amoedo, as well as Roth (who also directed the aforementioned piece), with the collaborative help of Nicholas Lopez (who produced said work) the script refuses to waver from going exactly where we expect it. It also has no desire to give us anything resembling a surprise.
The whole endeavor is all played as high camp. This is, decidedly, an appropriate note. Reeves is surely game.
He hits this factor unintentionally. His overblown performance provides more amusement than anything in the actual story. Much of the dialogue, for better or worse, works as such.
Though most of the first fifty minutes are heavy on exposition it is crafted in a manner that lets us know these characters reasonably enough.
It is stagy, but well-executed, with an intriguing promise of the suspense which arrives more impishly than unnervingly.
Such is an off-key approach that is refreshing for the material. To its credit, it garners more intrigue than intensity. This is especially true in the second half when the events spiral uncontrollably.
Still, Roth’s latest can never overcome the fact that our brains immediately blueprint everything that will arise once the plot is set in motion. This occurs at about the fifteen minute mark when the female leads end up on Reeves’ doorstep.
It is as if all three credited writers want to hit every foreseeable plot point. With only this desire in mind they rarely, with the exception of the last few minutes, deviate from its merrily macabre, methodology. Luckily this is one that is never overly vindictive.
That is with the exception of the darkly comic finale. Such seems to be taken from the Leslie Neilson and Ted Danson starring “Something to Tide You Over” from George A. Romero and Stephen King’s wonderfully brilliant 1982 horror anthology, Creepshow.
There is also another similarly said instance right before the end credits roll that Roth sets up so we see coming. Even with this preconceived knowledge it still puts a paradoxical smirk on our faces when it arrives. A lot of the movie can be seen through this lens and symbolized in this fashion.
This sinisterly sidesplitting undertone is unexpected. Such saves the work from being utterly predictable. The female leads, Lorenza Izzo (who appears as Genesis in a character that as far from her turn in The Green Inferno as one can get) and Ana de Armas (as Bel), delve into the irrational personas of their characters with a fervent relish.
They are believable for the material they are given. Not to mention, they are obviously enjoying the maniacal bout of scenery chewing they have been delivered with their roles.
Such is especially true in the second half. Izzo and Armas’ performances are so bizarre, curiously watchable and voraciously wild that it creates a strange, almost surreal B-movie sensibility that pulsates throughout the flick.
Reeves’ portrayal, which gets purposefully more amateurish as it goes on, becomes a more suitable fit to the zaniness Roth has constructed.
It sets itself up to engage us in these characters, always a wise act in a picture that wants to evoke fear, for nearly an hour. This is before the mindlessly gratifying thrill ride begins. Still, we never walk away feeling we know the leads any more than we do in its opening moments.
The movie is too concerned with trying to seduce its audience with Izzo and de Armas’ over the top behaviors to ever develop these personages in any satisfying, or more than one dimensional, manner. The three main personages remain shadows cast in front of the viewers’ eye for the duration.
Equally unremarkable is the musical score by Manuel Riveiro, the cinematography by Antonio Quercia and the film editing by Diego Macho Gomez. All of the aforementioned are impossible to discern from any other photographic work. They follow the suit of Roth’s direction and only add to the overall lackluster feel of the whole endeavor.
Even when the screenplay seems to finally unleash itself and become spirited it is held back by the bland look, sound and the manner in which one sequence bleeds into another. Such adds a palpable sense of boredom and carelessness perceivable throughout the entirety. This confines it all to mediocrity even, as is the case with an extended segment involving what can only be described as a questionnaire game gone psychotic, in its best moments.
Roth’s film is practically without gore. That is one of the film’s unsung key points. Knock Knock simply arrived in select theaters and On Demand on October 9th of 2015 without the graphic selling point of Roth’s prior composition.
The Green Inferno is a technically superior achievement. Despite this, the properly low-key demeanor coursing through this feature and its advertising makes it far easier to warm up to. It proves film is often better without a pre-ordained hype attached as audiences are more likely to enjoy it for what it is.
Roth’s endeavor is quaint and unassuming. This is most evident in tone and overall feel. The film goes down smoothly enough.
It is never anywhere near as off-putting as some of Roth’s prior incantations (most notably Hostel from 2005). The characters are never unlikable. Such is a unique trait for many genre features. Still, the production seems distant but never fully out of reach.
The motion picture also deserves credit for limiting its setting to one place. This is something often done in horror films. Hardly is it conceived with the capacity to consistently divert us from its limited setting as it is here.
What is also noteworthy, and deserving of our appreciation, is its minimal use of special effects. This adds a level of credibility that, even when it approaches the zenith of its campiness, it never loses its sights upon. Such is an atmosphere that seems strangely fitting.
Knock Knock could’ve went down like the bad joke suggested by its title. Even if its set-up is familiar it still has a punchline that soars with a memorably ominous, yet uproarious, sting.
The movie itself, like an enjoyably tried pun, has an unassuming appeal that doesn’t completely crumble with multiple returns.
It has an unchallenging comfort food-like charm, despite its obvious faults, that proves a fair utilization of time. This is true even considering the broadening realization that rises as the runtime goes on that Knock Knock ultimately endures as far from memorable.