Knock Knock (dir. Eli Roth)

Posted: October 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

“Knock Knock” is a film with a message that isn’t entirely able to be dug out of it.  Eli Roth’s films usually have a political message of some sort in them, with “Cabin Fever” being the least political up until now, and “Knock Knock” is his first film to not feature the theme of culture clashes.  The difficulty of ascertaining the message of the film does hamper the enjoyment of it, but at least we can guess as to what Roth was going for here.

Apparently, this film is a pseudo remake of a 1977 film called “Death Game”, but since I have not seen that film, this knowledge doesn’t help to understand this new film.  “Knock Knock” has superficial similarities to films like “Funny Games” and “Hard Candy”, these low-budget, almost stage-like home invasion morality play films.  We can add to that the subgenre of films where men who cheat on their wives are punished by their mistresses, like “Fatal Attraction”.  Usually the messages of films such as these are blatant. Men shouldn’t cheat because it’s wrong, or men shouldn’t teat because women are crazy.  Whether the particular film is misogynist, misandrist, or both can vary.  “Knock Knock” is a film that is not really clear because it stacks the deck so much on one side that it eliminates any easy answers.  The women of the film are so obviously in the wrong in their actions, despite the man also doing something wrong, that we’re left thinking there’s a subtle message we’re not getting.

Perhaps a plot description is in order.  Keanu Reeves plays Evan, an architect who is married with two kids.  His house has more pictures of his family than any house has ever had ever, making me think the film was going for some sort of satire.  Indeed, the early parts of the film are shot and set up like the worst Lifetime TV movie you’ve ever seen.  You can imagine the TV spots advertising such a film, with corny voiceover like “He was the perfect family man, until one night temptation struck.”  Evan’s wife (Ignacia Allamand, who seems unable to act in this film, even though she pulled off a passable performance in “The Green Inferno”) and kids are going away over a long weekend, leaving Evan alone to work on a project.  On the first night alone, the doorbell rings and on Evan’s doorstep are two young, soaked-from-the-rain girls, Genesis (Lorenza Izzo, lead actress from “The Green Inferno” and Roth’s rela life wife) and Bell (Ana de Armas).  They claim a taxi dropped them off and they couldn’t find the house where they are to attend a party.  They also claim their phones have gotten soaked and ruined.  Evan, who we learn hasn’t had sex in weeks because he’s recovering from shoulder surgery (okay?) lets them in to use his computer.  When the girls find out they were dropped off in the wrong neighborhood, he has an Uber sent to pick them up, but because of the rain it’ll take 45 minutes for the car to get there.  The girls are soaked and ask to dry their clothes in the dryer, so Evan lets them while getting them robes to wait in.  They have a polite conversation that gets progressively more flirtatious on the girls’ end while Evan is obviously flattered by it, but tries very hard to keep things friendly and appropriate.  He gets up when they start touching his shoulder or rubbing his arms, he changes the subject when the girls bring up sex.  All in all, he has more will power than most men would have in this porn movie-esque scenario.

I’m not sure it’s a spoiler to say that Evan eventually relents to the bombardment of come-ons, but not before he’s practically blowjob-raped by both girls at the same time.  Later, an actual woman-on-man rape happens to him.  Here’s the thing: if this film is trying to make a simple don’t-cheat-on-your-wife message, that’s very hard when the girls commit what would be considered entrapment if this were some sort of law enforcement proceeding, and then commit out and out rape on this guy.  If the film is just saying women are evil temptresses who shouldn’t be trusted, then the film wouldn’t spend so much time reminded us that Evan is married with children, to the point where the entire set design is made up of family photos or pieces of artwork Evan’s wife has created.  The film doesn’t want to let Evan off easy, but it also stacks the deck so that the girls’ actions are far more wrong than Evan’s.  Evan essentially made the mistake of being too polite in letting the girls in, and not firmly shutting down their flirting.  He then, of course, made the mistake of not stopping the two-girl blowjob that was forced upon him.  Those mistakes might warrant the end of his marriage, sure, but they don’t warrant the psychological and physical torture the girls put him through.  Also, these girls are made as close to clinically insane as possible.  It doesn’t read, though, as if the film is indicting all young women, for some reason.  The film only really gives us two other adult female characters (Evan’s wife and Evan’s physical therapist, played by Colleen Camp) and both of them are not portrayed in any sort of misogynistic manner.

So then what is this film’s point?  Is it just a story of two crazy women who entrap a man into sleeping with them, and then punishing him for succumbing to their incredibly strong demands?  That seems rather pointless.  Why the rather arch satire of TV movies and pornography.  Why is a man’s fantasy scenario going wrong amplified by Genesis wearing a shirt saying “This is all a dream” and then later having her write on a mirror in lipstick “This is NOT all a dream?”  It seems like perhaps Roth is attempting to poke a whole in a common male fantasy, be that affairs with younger women, threesomes, or whatever.  Perhaps it’s poking a whole in female wish fulfillment of cheating men getting what they deserve by making Evan receive far more than he actually deserves.  Maybe Roth is merely poking a whole in easy morality, and reminding us that situations are not always as black and white or as surface as they appear to be.

One of the major themes of Roth’s last film “The Green Inferno” (filmed a year before “Knock Knock” but released mere weeks before due to issues with that film’s release) was shaming via social networking.  In “Knock Knock” there is a scene where an out of context video is shared on social media with people in order to wound Evan.  It is perhaps likely that Roth is really just making a larger comment about internet shaming.  Roth may be making a point that when there is an online controversy about something the entire context isn’t known and would change initial perceptions, or that the outrage is often out of proportion to the act causing the outrage, even if some outrage is indeed justified.  My guess is if “Knock Knock” has a message, it is somewhat related to Online Shaming, but the film could do a better job of articulating that message.

“Knock Knock” is fairly entertaining as it goes along, but the satire could be lost on some and that message is too buried among the other extroverted weirdness to be considered an asset to the film. Coming off the very good “The Green Inferno”, this is Roth’s weakest film since “Cabin Fever”.  C+.

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