Sundance: Eli Roth Unveils 'Knock Knock' Thriller

The director calls the Keanu Reeves film, which premiered Friday at midnight, a turning point in his career.
Associated Press
Eli Roth

Eli Roth made his first ever Sundance Film Festival appearance, kicking off the festival's midnight sidebar with the premiere of Knock Knock.

With the stars of the movie in attendance, including Keanu Reeves, Roth unveiled to buyers and movie watchers a film that he said "marks a turning point in my life."

Eschewing the blood and gore of his previous films, such as Hostel and Green Inferno, Roth moves into psychological terror with this one, a tale of a father who lets two nubile and willing ladies into his house one rainy night when the wife and kids are away, only to find his guests unwilling to leave and with plans of their own.

Roth fans don't have to worry; even with no gore, the filmmaker's combo of horror and humor remain as well as his inability to say no to gleefully going over-the-top, especially with Reeves.

Roth's previous movies — Hostel, Hostel 2 and Green Inferno — have been labeled the Travel Trilogy in which young entitled Americans go abroad only to encounter the terror of not being in America.

Read more Sundance: 5 Hot-Button Docs Set to Make Waves at the Festival

At the Q&A after the screening, Roth — standing with actors Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas, Ignacia Allamand, Aaron Burns, Colleen Camp and producer Nicolas Lopez — said he began wondering what if that idea was spun inward and brought into the place that is supposed to be safe and secure: a person's home.

Camp, a veteran character actress, was key not only in the film's genesis but also to it being made at all. Camp starred in a 1978 thriller titled Death Game in which a man, whose wife and kids are away, finds two lovely ladies at his door. Trouble, very similar to Knock Knock's, ensues.

Wanting to use that as a springboard, Roth bought the rights to Death Game, making several of its players producers, including Camp. But as Roth detailed humorously, Camp was also instrumental in the movie's financing.

With a draft of the script finished only last January and a window in which Roth and his team had to shoot the movie in April, the filmmaker was sweating a lack of money and more importantly, lack of a star.

Using some Paramount connections, Camp got herself and Roth into the 2014 Oscars, where they proceeded to park themselves near the bar and where, according to Roth (who was also imitating Camp), she began accosting every actor and producer she saw. One person she went up to was producer Cassian Elwes, who proved interested.

"From my phone I sent him my script. He read it the next day. He got it to Keanu, and two weeks later, we got the money," recalled Roth.

"I remember what we did in the lobby a little differently," a smiling Camp said. "But it was insane about the Oscars."

Regarding the film, she said, "For me, as an homage, it was incredible watching it tonight. I thought you did an amazing job."

Roth talked about the shooting of the film — in Santiago, Chile — and described how they ended up fake demolishing the house they had rented (in the movie, the girls end up trashing the man's fine home), but on the last day, the woman who owned the house came by and was aghast.

"It was fake floors, fake everything [that was destroyed], but she started freaking out," Roth said. And she didn't allow them back for pickups. Still, Roth and his crew got around by using a drone to get at least some of the shots they needed.

Reeves, for his part, said he felt very much like a sacrificial lamb with his character. "I was the sacrifice for this very cautionary tale."

Twitter: @borys_kit