I'm going out on a limb here but Knock Knock may well be writer/director Eli Roth's best film to date. Now hold on, put those flaming torches down for a second, this isn't to say that it is a great or even good film but considering we are talking about the guy who gave such classics as Cabin Fever, Hostel and...Hostel 2?, you should at least consider the possibility that my statement may be in some way true. Don't believe me? Alright then, let's take a second and delve into the film itself and try to determine whether or not it is Roth's best work yet. Read the full review after the break.
The first thing most naysayers will point towards when trying to tear the film apart is that it stars Keanu Reeves. While Reeves can make a good film now and again they generally tend to be films that don't rely on him having to emote, something he is called on here to do numerous times. Looking back on Reeves' career it is easy to dismiss him as a subpar actor, just look at his laughable performances in things like Bram Stoker's Dracula or Kenneth Brannagh's Much Ado About Nothing for examples of how bad the Point Break star can be when trying to convey emotions. This isn't really a knock on Reeves though since personally I find him to almost always be a welcome presence in just about anything he is in(well, maybe not Johnny Mnemonic) and he just so happens to be one of the more level headed and cooler people in Hollywood.
Once you get past your inherent indifference towards Reeves what is left is what appears to be, on the surface anyways, just another torture porn movie from the master of the genre Eli Roth. Yes, Roth loves to watch people suffer and he has made it his mission to make sure we see people suffer in every imaginable way. Be it having their skin peel off in Cabin Fever, having their eyeballs popped out and dangling from the socket in Hostel, being ripped apart and eaten alive in Green Inferno or having raving psychopaths hunt down and kill survivors of an Earthquake in the Roth produced Aftershock. This time however he has switched things up a little by having a guy tied up and be relentlessly abused by a pair of twentysomethings (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas)...oh wait, well I guess that isn't so different after all...sigh.
Anyway, there are a couple things that do separate Knock Knock from Roth's other work most notably the atmosphere he establishes this time around. While Roth has dabbled in the horror/comedy sub genre before with Cabin Fever this time around he seems to have a more consistent tone. This is achieved through the performances more than anything on the page with Reeves being the MVP for the film, although both of the girls do an admirable job being as annoying as possible. But Reeves' performance here is a big question mark because while I have taken it upon myself to label the film as this horror/comedy hybrid, it is difficult to say if that was Roth's intent or not as there is never any moment where you feel as if you were meant to laugh or meant to yell at the screen, the whole affair just seems bizarrely detached from reality.
Take for instance when a character arrives mid torture and seems to be Reeves' savior but finds himself at the mercy of the girls when they get a hold of his inhaler. The scene that follows is either some sort of beautiful commentary on the absurdity of how people act in a moment of danger in horror films or is one of the worst scenes in any film ever. You can watch for yourself if you dare and make your own judgement but for my money it was just too insanely stupid to be taken seriously. But it is Reeves' who sells it as a comedy though whenever he goes into full on desperation mode such as his frenzied speech to the girls in a particularly inspired twist on the torture theme as they threaten to make him go deaf using some headphones that may go down in history as one of the best monologues ever given in film history. "It was free f**king pizza! I'm a good father! You put my c**k in your mouth...both of you!", I dare you to not crack a smile at Reeves' enthusiastic plea for sanity.
Whether you like Knock Knock will greatly depend on your point of view on it. There are certainly a number of issues with it, characters doing stupid things when they could have easily gotten away or how little reasoning we are given for the girls' actions but when viewed as more of a comedy than a horror film it suddenly gets a whole lot better. This leads us back to where Knock Knock falls on the list of films for Eli Roth which considering the few films we are dealing with isn't that much of a competition. Eli Roth may have a bigger fan base for his Hostel films but when it comes down to simple entertainment Knock Knock easily knocks the others off the list.
Eli Roth shows a lot of growth with Knock Knock. While he still succumbs to his fetish of watching people be tortured he at least added some much needed humor to it and even showed a great amount of restraint with the gore which was surprisingly nowhere to be found here. If nothing else he scores some major points by doing what most other films only dream of which is to have the most memorable scene in the entire film be the ending where Reeves' character learns just how dangerous and cruel the internet can truly be.