Knock Knock

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From the second I began watching Knock Knock (2015) I began thinking about whether Keanu Reeves really is the new Seymour Cassel. By the end of the film it’s clear he is not. Knock Knock is another attempt by filmmaker Eli Roth to recreate a specific exploitation film. The Green Inferno (2013) repackaged Cannibal Holocaust (1980) for the post-Blair Witch age and so Knock Knock remakes Death Game (1977) as an episode of The Red Shoe Diaries (1992).

It’s obvious that for Eli Roth films like Death Game and Cannibal Holocaust are fetish objects. He painstakingly studies these films then recreates them as a kind of sexual catharsis that also serves as an invitation for audiences to pursue these totems of grindhouse cinema. Roth’s obsessive gazing at these films from the past mirrors the unrelenting gaze of his camera as it reduces Ana de Armas to her breasts and Lorenza Izzo to her buttocks. Roth’s gaze is so focused on what he likes that he cannot see the wood from the trees.

While the camera objectifies the bodies of Ana de Armas and Lorenza Izzo, Keanu Reeves begs for mercy and insists that he does love his family. But how can an audience invest in this psychodrama when the visual discourse of the film is so very much at odds with the narrative? Of course, the same is true of Death Game but that film had big, broad campy performances that turned guilt, anguish, and mustaches into fetish objects to rival the bodies of the original temptresses Sondra Locke and Colleen Camp. Reeves is arguably too much of a leading man for the part, bringing with him all of the baggage of his earlier roles.

The audience never feels with Seymour Cassel the way they do with Reeves. Audiences always want to like Reeves so reducing him to a fetishistic signifier would require the collaboration of Roth’s camera. But Roth cannot tear his lens from his leading ladies’ bodies so Keanu ends up a kind of martyr to a juvenile suburban white heterosexual male fantasy. This makes Knock Knock far more problematic than its source material from the seventies.

Yet, it also makes Knock Knock a lot less fun. There’s a real kick of schadenfreude seeing an average looking, middle aged joe like Seymour Cassel live through an inverted Straw Dogs (1971) hooting and yelling in that signature voice of his. Cassel constantly reminds the viewer not to take Death Game seriously and to see it as nothing more than an idle fantasy. Reeves has the opposite effect and sells Knock Knock as a serious thriller, insisting that there is value to the absurd premise of the movie.

So Knock Knock is a sincere thriller that dramatizes the male fetishization of the female body as well as the guilt that follows. Death Game was not that, so why did Eli Roth reimagine the film this way? Why did this need to be said? Apparently Eli Roth doesn’t understand what makes the films he loves cult classics nor does he see a productive way to give those films a more contemporary resonance. I avoided watching Knock Knock for years and now I can honestly say that I regret watching it at all.