Friday, October 9, 2015

In Theaters/On VOD: KNOCK KNOCK (2015)

(US/Chile - 2015)

Directed by Eli Roth. Written by Eli Roth, Nicolas Lopez and Guillermo Amoedo. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas, Aaron Burns, Ignacia Allamand, Colleen Camp. (R, 99 mins)

Just two weeks after the long-delayed Italian gutmuncher homage THE GREEN INFERNO finally hit theaters, horror fanboy patron saint Eli Roth is back with the home invasion thriller KNOCK KNOCK. A remake of the sleazy, waka-jawaka-drenched drive-in favorite DEATH GAME, aka THE SEDUCERS (shot in 1974 but not released until 1977), KNOCK KNOCK essentially follows the same plot but with required modern updatings and more of a black comedy streak. In DEATH GAME, Seymour Cassel pays dearly when his wife and kids are away for the weekend and he allows himself to be seduced by two young women (Sondra Locke, Colleen Camp) who knock on the door claiming to be lost and waiting for a ride. KNOCK KNOCK--which lists Locke, Camp, and DEATH GAME director Peter Traynor among its committee of producers, with Camp returning for a cameo--has architect Evan Webber (Keanu Reeves) home alone at his luxurious Hollywood Hills residence with the dog over Father's Day weekend so he can finish an important work project while his artist wife Karen (Ignacia Allamand) and their two kids are away at the beach. After taking a break and smoking a little weed, Evan's work plans are put on hold when a torrential downpour brings two young women, Genesis (Roth's wife Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas), to his front door. Claiming to be flight attendants looking for a party but then discovering they're in the wrong neighborhood, the girls persuade Evan to let them in to use the phone. He makes them tea, lends them bathrobes while their clothes are in the dryer, and calls an Uber as his sense of unease increases over small-talk that quickly escalates to flirtation and full-on seduction, as family man Evan can't resist an impromptu threesome in the shower--during which the Uber driver gets tired of waiting and leaves--followed by an all-night fuckfest straight out of Penthouse Letters.

The next morning, Evan finds the girls making a mess in the kitchen as they try to cook breakfast. As his temper flares and his patience runs out, the girls just giggle at him. When he threatens to call the police, they drop a bombshell, saying they're actually only 15, which makes him a pedophile ("And I've still got the evidence!" Bel taunts as she points below her waist). Evan eventually calls their bluff and dials 9-1-1 anyway, at which point Genesis backs off and the girls agree to let Evan drive them home. Later that evening, investigating a noise in the kitchen, Evan discovers the girls have broken back into the house and they knock him unconscious. He wakes up tied to the bed as Bel forces him to have sex with her while she wears his daughter's clothes and calls him "Daddy." Genesis and Bel have declared themselves judge, jury, and, if things go their way, executioner, subjecting Evan to a weekend of psychological torture and sexual sadism as punishment for betraying his wife, his children, and his life of one-percenter privilege, dismantling and destroying every piece of his life, whether it's his rare vinyl collection, Karen's art and sculptures, or scrawling "Whore" on a framed picture of his daughter and "My daddy now has AIDS" on one of his son.

The class struggle element seems almost arbitrarily tossed in and dropped as soon as it's mentioned, it's never really clear why Genesis and Bel have singled out Evan, even after it's revealed that they've been spying on him for some time prior to being invited inside, and some things are groan-inducingly predictable (has there ever been a movie where a character is introduced reaching for their asthma inhaler that didn't telegraph a later scene where that same person couldn't breathe and couldn't find their inhaler?)  For a while, Roth and co-writers Nicolas Lopez and Guillermo Amoedo (the three have worked in various capacities with and for one another several other US/Chilean co-productions like AFTERSHOCK, THE STRANGER, and THE GREEN INFERNO) seem to be attempting a hot-button, FATAL ATTRACTION-type water cooler movie with the ethical and moral dilemma in which Evan finds himself. Initially, he does everything he can to resist the advances of Genesis and Bel, constantly moving from one seat to another in attempt to get them off of him, but when the Uber arrives and they refuse to leave the bathroom, only to have him enter and be rendered helpless when they go down on him simultaneously ("Have you ever had two women do this at once?" Genesis coos). Evan loves his family, but he's feeling a little unappreciated--the family left him alone on Father's Day and Karen hasn't had sex with him in several weeks, and here's two much-younger women stroking his ego about how buff he is and how lucky his wife must be. He gives in to temptation in a moment of weakness but the girls lord his transgression over his head for the rest of the movie ("You're all the same," Genesis scolds him), leading to an epic Keanu freakout that's on the level of Nic Cage's A-game. Tied to a chair, possibly going deaf from a piercing noises Genesis played through a set of headphones, and with a bleeding wound from being stabbed with a fork right over a recent shoulder surgery incision, Reeves dials it up to 11 with a long monologue, shouted at the top of his lungs about how "I'm a good guy! I'm a good father! I let you in! I called you an Uber! I made you tea! You came on to me! You were just free pizza that showed up at my door! What was I supposed to do?"

There's a darkly comedic mean streak throughout the film, but any pretense at seriousness is gone by the climax, where the comedy starts leaning broad and culminates in a great social media gag (between this and THE GREEN INFERNO, Roth has made his disdain for social media loud and clear) that's the funniest Facebook-related punchline I've yet seen in a movie (the melodrama in Reeves' punctuation of it is perfect as well). There's a lot of FATAL ATTRACTION, FUNNY GAMES, and HARD CANDY in KNOCK KNOCK, and if this was getting any kind of wide theatrical release (Lionsgate is dumping it on VOD and only releasing it in a few theaters), there'd likely be thinkpieces about the feminist and/or misogynist subtext (the girls are written off as "crazy bitches" but Roth leaves no doubt that Evan's in deep shit with his wife). Roth pays lip service to such things but doesn't explore it to any serious depth. It's very accomplished from a technical standpoint, especially in the way Roth has cinematographer Antonio Quercia snake and glide the camera through the house. Though it qualifies as a hard R, it's a virtually gore-free departure for Roth, who lets his sense of humor--sometimes clever, sometimes dudebro juvenile--run a little more free here even with the intensity and cringe-inducing discomfort of the whole thing. With solid performances by Reeves, Izzo (whose penetrating glare has some serious Eva Green potential), and de Armas, KNOCK KNOCK is quite enjoyable, guilty pleasure B-movie trash.

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