'Knock Knock': Sundance Review

Knock Knock
Courtesy of Sundance International Film Festival
A sexed-up hostage film that goes nowhere in the end.

Keanu Reeves tries to fend off two rapacious young women.

Wish-fulfillment turns to home invasion in Knock Knock, the latest titillation-fueled thriller from Eli Roth. As an upstanding family man entrapped by two sadistic sexpots, Keanu Reeves is a lesson in victimhood, first struggling to resist their wiles, then trying to keep them from ruining, maybe even ending, his life. The actor's presence will help the film reach beyond the horror maven's usual crowd, but many in the audience will be left unsatisfied by a film that flirts and flirts with explanations for its action without ever delivering.

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An architect living in a posh, secluded home outside Los Angeles, Reeves's Evan has settled in for a working weekend while his wife and kids are away. Just a night with some drinks, some CAD software, some loud music ... and two strangers at the door: dripping-wet young ladies who got stranded on the way to a party.

Reluctantly inviting them in while an Uber heads their way (approximate wait time: 45 minutes), Evan gives Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas) robes and puts their clothes in the drier. Perhaps you see where this is headed. The women flirt openly with the older man, offering unsolicited insight into the sexual mores and habits of millennials, bending over strategically, cooing over their host's biceps and his record collection. ("I love the sound of vinyl," he proclaims with laughable solemnity.)

What fun Knock Knock has to offer is in these scenes, watching Reeves mentally grapple with the Penthouse Forum scenario unfolding around him. Leaping out of seats when they sidle up too close to him, refusing to take conversational bait, volunteering praise about the work of his wife, whose sculpture fills the house — Evan is heroic but doomed to failure. Even his wife, were she given a God's-eye view, might not blame him for succumbing, though she might be hurt by the enthusiasm he shows during the eventual menage a trois. (Roth is surprisingly restrained in depicting this action.)

The next morning, the sirens have turned to gremlins, tearing up the place and taking any opportunity to ruin the family man's reputation. Izzo and de Armas' performances grow increasingly difficult to believe as the characters become violent, tying Evan up and forcing him to play games whose rules only they know. We keep waiting for the justification for their sadism — a revelation of some sin Evan once committed, a plot to empty his bank account through extortion — but the script never manages to make sense of it.

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Roth and his co-screenwriters were inspired by Death Game, a 1977 film he calls "a true lost classic of the '70s." But while the remake employs present-day tech in appropriate ways, three decades-plus of cinema have had little impact on its sexual dynamics or afforded much feminist perspective on a plot that's easy to read as misogynistic. What would Knock Knock look like with a handsome nobody in Reeves's role and two smart, established actresses opposite him? (Is it going too far to imagine a woman behind the camera?) Such a film would likely have trouble with the audience this one is courting. But it would probably be a lot more interesting.

Production companies: Sobras International Pictures, Dragonfly Entertainment, Camp Grey

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas, Aaron Burns, Ignacia Allamand, Colleen Camp

Director: Eli Roth

Screenwriters: Eli Roth, Nicolas Lopez, Guillermo Amoedo

Producers: Eli Roth, Nicolas Lopez, Miguel Asensio Llamas, Colleen Camp, Cassian Elwes

Executive producers: Keanu Reeves, Teddy Schwarzman, Sondra Locke, Peter Traynor

Director of photography: Antonio Quercia

Production designer: Marichi Palacios

Costume designer: Elisa Hormazabal

Editor: Diego Macho Gomez

Music: Manuel Riveiro

Casting director:  Sheila Jaffe

Sales: Cassian Elwes, CAA

No rating, 99 minutes