Friday, 26 June 2015

"Knock Knock" (Guardian 26/06/15)

Knock Knock ***

Dir: Eli Roth. With: Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas, Ignacia Allemand. 99 mins. Cert: 18

Multiple producer credits aside, Eli Roth has been lying low since the skilfully nasty Hostel initiated the torture-porn cycle a decade ago. We might, at a pinch, see signs of a maturing in his comeback film’s premise: here, female sexuality threatens not the snickering fratboys of his earlier work, but a middle-aged man who could stand for any number of ageing showbusiness roués. With calculated perversity, Roth and co-writers Guillermo Amoedo and Nicolas Lopez attempt a crossbreed of Fatal Attraction and Funny Games, staging a sustained assault on the idyllic Hollywood retreat architect father-of-two Keanu Reeves shares with his loving artist wife.

With the latter taking kids out of town for the Father’s Day weekend, Reeves’ Evan has been left to play his old Kiss albums and retrieve the pot previously consigned to a drawer in his mancave. Fleshier temptation presents itself when big-eyed, bodacious party girls Genesis and Bel (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas) turn up on his doorstep, soaked through from a storm. We know Evan regards himself as a knight in shining armour, so it’s hardly surprising that he invites them in. We might question the move, though: first the dude’s pants come down, then his whole civilised veneer.

After a sinuous opening tracking shot, we’re largely left in situ watching the girls playing Evan for a fool: cooing upon discovering his DJ past, marvelling at his muscle tone. The film’s a judicious tease: for much of the first half, we’re anticipating hot three-way action, yet for once, Roth appears less interested in the big bang than he is in the initial tremors, and their possible repercussions. “I like building up the anticipation,” Reeves declares while unwrapping his presents, and his director may now feel similarly inclined: the gorehound of yore here reveals a new-found attention to script nuance and other varieties of kink.

Izzo and de Armas, afforded greater screen time than Hostel’s harpies, actually prove the film’s most valuable players, shuffling through multiple wardrobe changes, each time re-entering as different kinds of little monsters. Keanu, attempting more acting than the recent John Wick demanded, is less certain: he’s nicely courtly when shrugging off the girls’ initial advances, and it’s amusing seeing his inner Theodore Logan reawaken when the flirtation moves up (or down) a notch, but he gets hysterical during the morning-after parenting job. (His final scenes recall his deathless Jonathan Harker, which is entertainment of a kind.)

As a vision, Knock Knock remains pretty grim: the man’s an easily-led dupe who gets what he deserves, the women shape-shifting temptresses. Yet the infrastructure sustaining it – a clever deployment of tensions specific to the Uber app (a mainstream first), one eerily positioned overhead shot establishing the house’s isolation, the tantalising hints this could all be a bad dream – stands as uncommonly sound. Roth remains among our brighter shock merchants; possibly we love to hate his films as we hate to love those of, say, Lars von Trier – because they draw us in as they do.

You may consider it a blessing that the film can’t sustain the frowning moral conservatism of the AIDS-era Fatal Attraction; instead, we witness the director cackling – loudly, maybe reassuringly – as the girls threaten to out Evan as a paedophile, and a punchline that sniggers at the way our nightmares have shifted over recent decades from the private to the public domain. Little here is going to challenge the opinion of Roth as a bratty provocateur, but it’s still fun to experience a latter-day thriller pushing so many buttons in broadly the right order: if Knock Knock’s no more than a sick joke, it’s been very shrewdly constructed.

Knock Knock is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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