by Glenn Lovell
The ever reliable home-invasion thriller comes in for an overdue renovation in horror-meister Eli Roth’s “Knock Knock,” starring Keanu Reeves as an L.A. architect living la vida loca – pretty, successful artist wife, beautiful children, posh home hidden in that verdant matrix known as the Hollywood Hills.
In short, life’s too cushy for Evan Webber (Reeves); he needs to be taken down a peg or three. And this is where his surprise house guests come in.
Working over Father’s Day weekend — with the family away on vacation – Webber makes the mistake of opening the door one dark and stormy night to a couple of young women named Bell and Genesis (Ana de Armas and Lorenza Izzo). They’re on their way to a party and, gee, they’re lost and soaked to the bone, etc., etc.
“If you guys want, you can come in and use my phone,” Evan volunteers after sizing them up as harmless damsels in distress.
“Worst case scenario, I know I can take you.”
Mistake #1 in a weekend strewn with mistakes.
As the girls slip out of their wet clothes and lounge around in bathrobes, the conversation becomes increasingly sexual in nature, and the red-faced Evan, surrounded by family photos, becomes increasingly uncomfortable, hopping from chair to chair, checking his phone for any sign of the Uber driver.
By the end of Act 1, their hands are on his knees and Bell, snapping and pulling her chewing gum like the nubile Tuesday Weld of “Sex Kittens Go to College,” confesses her attraction for the older man, whom she frequently addresses as Daddy.
If you’ve seen “Hard Candy” with Ellen Page or either version of Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games,” you’ll have a pretty good fix on Roth’s latest, an update of the little-known “Death Game” (1977), which costarred Colleen Camp, who has a walk-on here, and Sandra Locke, now involved as executive producer. This remake was shot entirely on location in Santiago, Chile, following CG inserts of the L.A. skyline and the Hollywood Sign. (Roth, best known for “Hostel,” frequently works abroad to manage production costs. His ill-fated “Green Inferno” was shot in Peru and Chile.)
Still, this new arrival (VOD) is recommended for genre buffs: It’s slickly produced and photographed (Steadicam shots economically map the floor plan and add to the sense of entrapment), and it’s energetically performed by the skeleton cast, especially de Armas, who throws herself into the nymphet with a father fixation.
Whether or not you can get behind the sudden changes in tone will depend on your threshold for dark humor. Roth starts out straight-faced, maybe a tad too sentimental for my taste, but gradually cedes the stage to pitch-black comedy a la James Kirkwood’s play “P.S. Your Cat is Dead!” Eventually, Evan is the sole contestant in a mock game show called “Who Wants to be a Pedophile?”
Most established stars would phone in their performance in this kind of exploitation quickie. To his credit, Reeves doesn’t. As he demonstrated in “John Wick” and “47 Ronin,” he takes every job seriously. And his portrayal of the good husband gradually sucked into a kinky weekender that will have serious consequences is almost as convincing as Michael Douglas’s turn in “Fatal Attraction.” (Evan, incidentally, is a former disc jockey, which connects the film to Eastwood’s classic “Play Misty for Me” and sets up the girls’ more ludicrous torture device.)
Look for Aaron Burns as an art gallery rep with bad timing (in the best joke, he becomes an object d’art) and onetime exploitation queen Colleen Camp, who has swapped her mean girl role for that of a visiting masseuse who speaks her mind.
KNOCK KNOCK With Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas, Aaron Burns, Ignacia Allamand. Directed by Ely Roth; scripted by Nicolas Lopez, Guillermo Amoedo, Roth. 99 min. Rated R (for torture scenes, nudity, profanity and graphic sex talk)