Eli Roth seems to be making his long overdue comeback in a major way this year, and he’s doing it by tackling ultra specific horror and thriller subgenres. Last month saw the release of The Green Inferno, Roth’s ode to the Italian “cannibal boom” which took horror audiences by the throat from the late-’70s thru the mid-’80s. Now, barely 3 weeks later, he’s back with Knock Knock, a remake of the 1977 horror flick Death Game, which starred Sondra Locke and Colleen Camp (both of whom produced Knock Knock; Camp also has a cameo).
Now, Knock Knock may be Roth’s take on a little-seen exploitation flick, but to me it feels more like the “Yuppies in Danger” subgenre that flooded the early-’90s. Films like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Single White Female, Pacific Heights, The Crush, Unlawful Entry, Fear, and many more. And how exactly do you put a yuppie in danger? Well, the formula is pretty simple. It goes something like this:
- Introduce lead character: a yuppie. Make sure their life is pretty perfect (isn’t it always?)
- Introduce outsider who infiltrates yuppie’s life. Outsider should seem harmless enough at first.
- Outsider shows true colors and turns yuppie’s life upside down in a dangerous way.
- Outsider will make yuppie look like the dangerous/guilty one before attempting to murder them.
- Outsider is done away with, yuppie’s life is saved; lots of sweaty hugging of characters, with eyes closed. The end.
That’s it, that’s the formula. A more specific sticking point of the Yuppie in Danger film is infidelity. There has to at least be sexual tension — if not an overt act of adultery — to really shake things up. And so with all that in mind, onto Knock Knock.
Evan (Keanu Reeves) is an architect, happily married and a father of two, who has to spend Father’s Day alone at home working on a project while the wife and kids head out of town on vacation. That night (ominously rainy, of course) he gets a knock (knock) at the door. There stand two young, drenched coed types — Genesis and Bel (Roth’s real life wife Lorena Izzo, and Ana de Armas, respectively.) They’re lost and unable to find the party they were supposed to attend, and now the rain has left them without phones. Evan takes them in, gets them some fresh towels, and even allows them to dry their clothes. That’s when the girls start to snuggle up to Evan. And then…Yuppie in Danger!
Eli Roth has found the perfect “handsome nice guy” in Reeves. From the opening scenes with his wife and kids, to the scenes where the girls start being a little too flirty, Reeves just exudes this genuine niceness — a good, decent guy who you immediately invest in — and it really helps sell the character (and what eventually happens.) The girls are perfectly cast as well. They play crazy in a very realistic, innocent and playful way that really ratchets up the suspense. They’re so gleeful in their insanity, you really don’t know what they’re capable of or what’s going to happen next — and that’s great for building tension.
One of the things I loved most about Knock Knock was the way the girls gain entry to Evan’s home (and essentially, his life): a single, minor, fleeting line spoken by Izzo’s Genesis. When they show up at his doorstep in need of a phone, they immediately run into a snag — neither girl knows their friend’s phone numbers, because who remembers phone numbers anymore? So Genesis asks: “Can we use your computer?” It’s such a wonderfully on point update to a familiar horror trope, one that feels very natural and doesn’t feel like it was shoehorned in.
Of course, the movie isn’t without a few speedbumps (what movie is?) While he’s great at playing the kind, affable good-looking dad type here, Reeves stalls occasionally in the “holy shit, my life is in danger” department. There were a few scenes where his wooden delivery kinda killed the tension. But I’m a sucker for Reeves, baby. He’ll always get a pass from me. I mean, have you seen River’s Edge?
I’d say the biggest flaw with the movie is its sort-of “story with a moral” approach. Going that route leaves a lot of big holes in the 90 minutes leading up to the climax. The aforementioned Yuppies in Danger movies I named all took the simple road: the infiltrator is crazy. No rhyme or reason, no backstory. Perhaps a little bit of motive, but no ultimate plan in the long run. And that’s where Knock Knock stumbles: it tries to give too much meaning to the events instead of letting them retain a little mystery.
One part Poison Ivy and one part Fatal Attraction, Knock Knock plays like a female version of Funny Games — and like all of Roth’s stuff, it’s a fun and entertaining watch. Next up for Roth is his take on the “natural horror” subgenre with the killer sea creature movie, Lake Mead. I’m excited to see where he goes from there. Might I suggest the “killer kid” genre, Eli?
Final things to note:
- In the film, Keanu says he is 43. In real life, he’s 51. I find it funny that he looks so damn good for his age, that he had to go lower to make it more believable for his character.
- I wonder if Roth was inspired to write this when he wrote the two sleazy female leads in Hostel. This almost feels like it could’ve been a spin-off for those characters.
- “It was pizza! It was free-fucking-pizza!” is not only one of the greatest lines ever growled on film, but one that caused a weird emotional stirring inside me. What can I say: when Reeves is on, he’s on.