The aspect of the reverse psychological thriller drama where fantasy becomes nightmare is an interesting concept but allows for a little more interest when there is a play against type with an actor inclusive with a pre-ordained sense of self. Keanu Reeves has built a career within playing loners who are self sufficient, a bit reluctant and perhaps even a little paranoid. In Eli Roth’s Sundance entry “Knock Knock” the intregal element of an almost “Desperate Hours” situation plays out with a dad left home for the weekend. Despite being malayed by the norms of a married life, his character seems to have it all despite some intimacy setbacks (a true staple of the genre). Two hot looking girls show up at his doorstep, channeling everything he wants…liking his music and knowing the exact right buttons to push. What tends to work with Reeves is when he is trying to fight against it since he knows that it can do nothing but hurt his life. What devolves is a psychological structure that is both compelling at times and, at others, trite. Keanu is good at playing understated but when he loses his cool, it becomes overacted. This is the case here as slowly but surely his life is unraveled. The girls play a game against him, sexual in nature of course, that leaves him little room but to get upset as he is played.
The stakes get higher as murder is involved but the general melee of the girls torturing him with notions of his cheating ways feels empty at times because it seems like play acting because it “is” play acting. Roth as a director tends to be literal but hitting the audience over the head makes it feel simply flat at times. This is not to say that the film isn’t uncomfortable at times or engaging. It simply lacks a more intent way of feeling. I understand Keanu’s choice though. After “John Wick”, this is a perfect anti-thesis because of the mental torture as well as physical restriction he is put through. We usually don’t see Keanu as the victim and, on top of that, punished for being a generally good guy. Add to that the fact that Roth is a vetted filmmaker. “Knock Knock” just turns into more of an exercise and less of an experience despite the general giddiness of the two girls, who perfectly are able to switch between sex kittens and psychologically mangled manipulators.
The bigger problems are those lingering plot holes of who they are, why they play this game, the people that are helping them and the geographical inconsistencies which take you out of the story instead of adding mystery. “Knock Knock” is an interesting exercise but one where not all the key ingredients or details were added correctly despite the game nature of the cast.
By Tim Wassberg