The Funny Games-ish shenanigans of Knock Knock skew too goofy to be suspenseful and too routine to be edgy. When two determined young women threaten the comfortable home – in the literal and figurative sense – of a suburban family man alone for the weekend, there should be a palpable sense of escalating stakes and building tension. Instead, co-writer/director Eli Roth offers up a series of repetitive setup/joke situations. Even as potentially deadly and decidedly uncomfortable antics arise, the script winks and we can almost feel Roth’s constant smirk from behind the camera.
The mark of the slow burn home invasion is architect Evan (Keanu Reeves), whose artist wife Karen (Ignacia Allamand) and two young kids go away for the weekend as the patriarch recovers from a shoulder injury and catches up on some architecting. In the dead of the rainy night, two attractive, desperate women, Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas), knock on Evan’s door. The duo got lost looking for a party and Evan welcomes them in to dry off as they wait for an Uber. Genesis and Bel quickly turn on the charm, Evan eventually giving in to their seduction. After the affair the girls turn from cute to creepy, playing mind games with Evan and promising to punish him for his misdeed.
While the cerebral terrors are a departure from Roth’s gore-heavy past features, his fantasy turned nightmare scenario is familiar and flimsy. His long-delayed, recently released cannibal throwback The Green Inferno served up plucked eyeballs and severed tongues, but there was also a heaping side of subtext relating to the shattering of an idyll and deriving pleasure from punishment. This theme is also bubbling plainly on the surface of Knock Knock. With no interest in exploring the concept deeply and no extreme allegory to exploit, the thriller languishes at a consistently off-kilter, yet flaccid, pace.
Izzo and de Armas do a serviceable job of flipping the switch from desirable to demented after the steamy hookup, cementing Evan’s morning-after regret. However, their lack of chops in more menacing situations – including torturing Evan’s ears with his own DJ equipment and their direction to remain constantly giggly — prevent the film from ever becoming truly squirmy. Reeves channels his inner modern-day Nicolas Cage to bring some nutty theatrics to the flat-lining production, though his dramatic outbursts are just another gag for Roth to fall back on. The impassioned speech comparing the tryst with Genesis and Bel to “free pizza” is pretty hilarious in a vacuum, yet in the bigger picture the line between Evan being adulterer and victim is never properly blurred.
Inconsistencies in tone also submarine the few hints at loftier thematic goals and attempts to distress. Genesis and Bel allude to past traumas that may have led to their psychosis and there are clues that point to a larger, organized conspiracy against Evan and cheating husbands everywhere that come off as pointless filler. The shift between piecemeal motivations for wounded women out for misplaced vengeance and metaphorical, cosmic karma is jarring in its staleness.
Even in embracing the daffiness of the situation, Knock Knock isn’t immune to lame cliché. A couple of secondary characters appear to put further stress on Evan and/or become wrapped up in the girls’ web. And for seasoned seductresses/terrorizers, it seems the girls are always tying Evan up within a strained reach of one of his Apple devices.
It’s not haphazard that Evan is an architect who longs for the DJ days of his 20s, or that his wife is an accomplished artist. This contrivance allows Genesis and Bel to run roughshod over Evan’s 3D building models, his extensive collection of vinyl, and his wife’s prized sculpture. Their art is destruction, and a more thoughtful approach to their takedown of Evan could’ve yielded actual thrills. As it is, Knock Knock is more of the same oddball sense of humor from Roth, who’s more interested in drippy punchlines than a point.