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Torture-porn director Eli Roth makes Keanu Reeves' life a living hell in Knock Knock

Pain & Privilege

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Eli Roth's films have, at their core, a consistent theme that skewers the privileged college jackasses who, alternately, fear and look down upon those who are not like them. Sometimes this skewering is quite literal.

In the viral nightmare Cabin Fever, Roth's targets were snobby college kids staying in an out-of-the-way cabin. Their open disdain for the townsfolk became their undoing. In the Hostel films, vacationing college kids look down on the locals in Amsterdam and Slovakia before a shadowy group of thugs kidnap and hold them for the torturous enjoyment of privileged, mostly American, assholes. With last month's The Green Inferno, privileged college kids do the well-meaning "let's save the Amazon" thing until some hungry-hungry cannibals take delight in their misplaced naivete.

With Knock Knock, Roth takes aim at an older recipient of privilege, one who could easily be one of those college kids all grown up. Instead of targeting an elitist on holiday, this time evil makes a house call, in this case to the suburban home of Evan Webber (Keanu Reeves), a happily married architect. Film fans will no doubt see the connections between Knock Knock and the 1977 exploitation flick Death Game, and with good reason; Roth's latest is actually co-produced by two of Death Game's stars, Sondra Locke and Colleen Camp.

A workaholic of sorts, Evan must miss his Father's Day family vacation to meet a fast-approaching deadline. His wife, a successful artist, leaves with the two kids for the beach trip. Aside from an upcoming visit from his wife's agent and a shoulder injury, there is very little to distract Evan from his work. That all changes when two young women, presumably college-aged and stranded, knock on his door one rainy evening.

Evan reluctantly invites the soaked Bel (Ana de Armas) and Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) to come inside and dry off until an Uber driver arrives. Needless to say, their small talk is slowly filled to the brim with awkward pauses and innuendos. As he anxiously waits, Evan finds himself constantly fighting the urge to fulfill a Penthouse Forum fantasy. To his credit, the family man puts up a valiant fight to remain faithful until he finally succumbs to the comely duo's advances.

However, things take an inevitably Fatal Attraction turn when the ladies decide they don't want to leave the next morning. Being that this is an Eli Roth film, it's only right and natural to assume that Evan will endure the kind of torture that would make Queen Elizabeth the First's Richard Topcliffe whence, but that doesn't quite happen. That's not to say that there aren't a couple queasy moments; it's just to say that this go-around the villains are more fixated on taunting and terrorizing their injured prey than skinning him alive.

The best moments of Knock Knock play out during the suspenseful build-up to the unavoidable seduction. As a viewer, you know the unbelievably beautiful Bel and Genesis will ultimately have their way with the likeable Evan and that they have a sinister agenda. More important, you know that Evan will toss aside his wedding vows for a single night of passion. Like many of Roth's leads, he's hardly innocent.

While Roth once again revisits his favorite theme, in his latest he seems to take particular glee in treading the uncomfortable terrain of gender roles and sexual archetypes. This is also the first time the director has worked with an actor with a notable filmography, and like a handful of other directors, he knows how to tap into Reeves' flaws and strengths, most notably in a refreshing scene where the laid-back Reeves simply loses his shit.

Overall, Knock Knock is not quite a success, like much, if not all, of Eli Roth's films. Some scenes could have been trimmed or even cut, and there were a couple of dialogue exchanges that felt too on the nose. In different hands, this thriller could have been a good short along the lines of an episode from the Twilight Zone-esque Black Mirror, but instead it's a flawed feature with a few notable moments.

Related Film

Knock Knock

Official Site: knockknockthemovie.com

Director: Eli Roth

Writer: Guillermo Amoedo and Nicolás López

Producer: Eli Roth, Nicolás López, Miguel Asensio Llamas, Colleen Camp, Tim Degraye and Cassian Elwes

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

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