Knock Knock Is No Joke
By Robert Silva
Keanu Reeves does adulting poorly (and brilliantly) in this slow-burn thriller with a twist.
Keanu Reeves isn’t easy to pin down. Born in Beirut, he’s lived in Toronto, Hawaii, New York and Los Angeles. His speaking voice is somewhere between a crisp mid-Atlantic accent and a laidback Southern Californian drone. He has a bad rap for lacking depth as an actor, likely from playing airheads early in his career (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Parenthood), and later, a series of young professionals susceptible to mind control (The Matrix, Point Break). Cool and charismatic, as a movie star he’s one of the least showy — and most distinctive.
The question has always been: Is Keanu acting, or is he just Keanu playing Keanu? Well, his brilliant performance in Eli Roth’s 2015 psychological thriller Knock Knock should put any doubts to rest. He’s a great actor and he gives one of his best, most nuanced roles, as a lame dad.
Reeves plays architect Evan, living in an upscale neighborhood with two photogenic children and an adoring wife. Their cheerful, innocuous household seems transported from Spielberg’s 1980s, a decade that still believed in family as a refuge from trauma, rather than its source.
The softcore setup is as follows: While Evan is home alone working on a big project, two flirtatious women show up on his doorstep, drenched in rain, ostensibly looking for a party. Evan is a “good guy,” so of course he lets them in. A game of seduction commences, and dad is destined to lose. Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bell (Ana de Armas) know with laser-guided precision what will make his ego purr.
Reeves brilliantly mines the layers of a well-meaning and unobservant dad, befuddled by his own motivations. Evan is attracted to the girls, but also suspicious, and cautious about jeopardizing his happy home, the details of which fill the frame of Roth's insidiously roaming camera. Among the set dressing are two turntables, what’s left of Reeve's character's youthful aspirations to be a DJ. He decides to spin records for the girls and you don’t know whether to cringe or cry.
Evan shows no self-awareness and, come to think of it, neither does Keanu as he leans into the middle-aged lapses that lead his character to a very bad choice: He sleeps with the girls. The consequences are deadly, as the youthful pair become moral inquisitors, holding Evan hostage and making him pay for his infidelity.
What follows is not only a psychic game of cat-and-mouse, but a gratifying cage match between Millennials and Gen-Xers. For Genesis and Bell, there's no such thing as privacy or forgiveness. They're unwilling to put Evan's actions in context, and are prepare to upload one of his least laudable moments to his Facebook profile to destroy his life with a click. The self-satisfaction of the young runs headfirst into the moral self-righteousness of Reeves’ sad sack, apoplectic about his sudden vulnerability and who never had a problem he couldn't fix. Until now.
Evan is seduced, raped, tortured and at the end, delivers a long, bitter monologue that contains about 15 f-bombs. Youth hates maturity, and the feeling is mutual. It’s a virtuoso performance from Reeves that goes all the way, but doesn’t showboat.
Along with The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino’s opus of division and hatred released the same year, Knock Knock might be one of the sneakily quintessential films of our current era. It works because it’s not an issue picture. The movie takes place in a cultural vacuum (Chile stands in for California), a cinematic dreamland where fantasies become reality and then become nightmares. Can there be any tolerance for personal failure — or only punishment? The movie doesn’t necessarily resolve its issues, but does achieve catharsis in its final reel.
The Keanu-issance isn’t coming. It’s already here.