After the torturous journey that his still-unreleased The Green Inferno has taken, Eli Roth’s latest seems to have raced to its release. Indeed, this riff on 1977’s Death Game feels like something that came together quickly, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s an energy to Knock Knock’s single location thrills that propels it through some of its missteps to make for an entertaining, if inconsistent, skin-crawler.
Keanu Reeves is family man Evan, who stays home alone on Father’s Day weekend to work while his wife and kids head to the beach. In the middle of the dark and stormy night, two beautiful young girls pitch up on his doorstep needing help.
Being a nice guy, he invites the seductive Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana De Armas) to come in, and it’s not too long before the inevitable happens. However, Evan soon finds out that he’s let himself in for much more than he bargained for.
Those expecting Roth to slip into his old Hostel habits will be surprised. There’s very little blood here at all, as Genesis and Bel are more interested in anarchic destruction than dismemberment. Roth should be commended for putting Evan through a different sort of torture than we’re used to seeing from him, and some of these moments pack a real punch.
On the other hand, others really don’t, and it’s that inconsistency that is one of Knock Knock’s biggest problems. The film’s real squirm-in-your-seat highlight comes halfway through, everything after that seems a little… tame.
The performances, too, a little hit and miss. At times Reeves acquits himself very well, and at others he’s truly dire. For the most part Izzo and De Armas are very good (particularly the latter), but it feels like there’s indecision over how much back story they’re supposed to have.
They have a motive, unlike the terrifying duo in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, but hints about their existence outside of torturing Evan detract from their power more often than not.
In general, though, Roth’s ambivalence works, particularly with the question of how much of this treatment Evan really deserves. When Knock Knock hits home, it hits home hard. It’s a shame that some poor choices and a lacklustre final act keep it from being more than an entertaining, occasionally sharp thriller.