FILM REVIEW: Eli Roth’s carefully crafted ‘Knock Knock’ has worthwhile thrills and chills

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Cheating on your spouse is never a good idea, but in the case of Knock Knock a night of infidelity could literally cost someone their life.

Keanu Reeves is Evan Webber, a person most would probably describe as a very lucky man. Having established himself in the world of architecture following a successful career in music, Evan now lives a comfortable life with his artist wife and their two beautiful children. We meet him on the morning of Father’s Day, and due to a fast-approaching deadline Evan must remain home while his wife and kids leave for a weekend at the beach. Evan’s only company is the family dog, Monkey, and his enormous vinyl collection.

Not long after night falls, Evan hears a knock as the front door. He opens his home to discover two young woman (Ana De Armas and Lorenza Izzo), soaking wet, standing in the pouring rain. They claim they were left by a taxi while on their way to a party, but due to a miscommunication they found they had been taken to the wrong neighborhood. Evan offers the girls his phone, but they claim to not know any numbers they can call. Instead, they request his computer in order to access Facebook, and Evan agrees out of a desire to be nice.

You can probably guess where this story is headed, or at least where it will really begin. Evan loves his family—and that is a point which is thoroughly established throughout the film—but at the request of the young women he succumbs to his lust desires and has sex with both of them in the bed he normally shares with his wife. In the morning, the girls make breakfast, and after that they refuse to leave. Evan, ever the gentleman, does his best to rid himself of his houseguests without causing a scene. The girls eventually exit, but their absence from the home is only short lived.

Before Evan can feel comfortable in his own home, night falls once more. A broken frame in his living room alerts Evan that something is not right, but he could never have prepared for the horror that awaits him. The girls are back, only this time they’re claiming to be underaged and hellbent on seeing a pedophile, Evan, punished for his bad deeds. Evan cries foul, but unfortunately for him no one can hear him. No one, that is, except for the two young women who now hold his life in their hands.

With this much sex and mischief at play, it should come as no surprise that Eli Roth is the man in the director’s chair. Roth penned the script for Knock Knock with his fellow Aftershock writers Nicolás López and Guillermo Amoedo, and I’m thankful to say the results are far better this time around. The twists and turns that follow Evan’s realization the girls are more than hapless strangers are familiar, but they’re executed in such a way that the tension and suspense remains top notch throughout the duration of the film. You think you know where things are going, but there is a darkly sinister atmosphere to the entire affair that leads you to also believe anything is possible. It’s the kind of careful craftsmanship that has been missing from many of Roth’s recent genre endeavors, but here his skills are present and clever as ever.

Still, the film falters as it tries to transition from its lusty opening act to its gruesome final chapter. Roth’s tradition of injecting humor into life’s bleakest moments is still a hit-or-miss effort, with the vast majority of lines meant to induce fear causing laughter or confusion instead. It’s almost as if Roth cannot leave well enough alone. That even when he pushes something to the most unnerving or uncomfortable it can be he must insist on taking things one step further. Sometimes this effort works, as it did in the first two Hostel films, but ever since such unnecessary extensions have only stunted the once great filmmaker’s work. It’s a wholly useless component to the film, and it ultimately dampens the experience.

Only spoilers (which you won’t find here) could help you understand where the last half of Knock Knock takes its stars, and that is probably the highest compliment that can be paid to title such as this. Marital indiscretions have long been a source of rage and revenge within the world of horror, but never has the desire to teach broken men a lesson been delivered in such a twisted or compelling way as it is presented within this film. Eli Roth may have struggled to regain the trust of horror fans in recent years, but Knock Knock is proof he still has worthwhile thrills and chills to share. It also proves Keanu Reeves, a man once thought to have peaked with The Matrix, is as versatile as ever.