Men. Let me tell you. When it comes to instinctual animal pleasure, they just can’t control themselves. In fact, they’ll quickly forfeit home and hearth for the wiles of any given anonymous temptress. And don’t even get me started about women, man’s downfall, those brazen homewreckers who are quick to “break a boy just because [they] can,” as Fiona Apple sang in her 90’s hit, Criminal. Humanity. (Sigh). What a contestable, corrupt, lowly lot we are. We may as well abandon our attempts at monogamy, send our worst beings on a mission to Mars, and breed another world of insatiable, pleasure-seeking, polygamous – or cheating – inhabitants. At least, maybe, Earth can look comparatively moral.
Ha. Of course, I don’t really think that humanity is morally bankrupt, from a sexual standpoint or otherwise. I would imagine most people don’t. I might even conjecture that filmmaker Eli Roth wouldn’t agree with the first paragraph of my blog post today, although a careful examination of his cinematic thriller, Knock Knock, could (with little hyperbole needed) yield a conclusion similar to the one provided above. Knock Knock, though surely an entertaining view, seems to readily lend itself to the conclusion that most women are wanton and vindictive, and most men are inherently deceitful and lack self-control, at least when it comes to, you know, sex.
Before I embark on more of a critique, I will say, in my opinion, Knock Knock is an attention-getting and attention-keeping rental. Michael and I picked it up on a whim. I was interested to see what Roth would do with the premise: Two girls knock on a man’s door at night. He lets them in, and havoc ensues. Frankly, after my first Eli Roth film, The Green Inferno, I was interested to see another one of his films. Given his penchant for showing limbs torn asunder, organs strewn about, and humans chopped into a million little pieces in The Green Inferno, I was expecting another exploration into the world of unbridled violence and physical dismemberment with this film. My anticipation aside, I was pleased that he surprised me with a different line of exploration, which took the form of a twisted glimpse of quazi-erotica and its unlikely outcome. What I got, when I subtract my critique about the film’s underlying assumptions and troubling implications, was a developed portrait of two loathsome, horrible human beings, and one weak-willed man – but a portrait so poignant that I must give Roth credit for rousing my emotions as he did.
Two attractive young women – presumably in their early 20’s, Bel and Genesis (Ana de Armas and Lorenza Izzo) – knock on Evan Webber’s door (Keanu Reeves) – while his wife and children are away on a multi-day trip to the beach. They are somewhat scantily clad, and appear cold and wet from the rain. Their façades are initially unassuming, but after they ask if they can enter his house (a symbolic gesture that I’d like to think of as a nod to vampire lore), they ask to throw their clothes in his dryer and stay until a driver comes to pick them up and take them to their friend’s house (allegedly, they’re lost). A little bit nervy, but, okay, I’ll buy it.
One senses immediately, however, that these women are far from innocent, and they quickly begin what we find out is a routine seduction technique. At one point, they literally force themselves on Evan, stripping off their clothes and caressing themselves naked in the shower, despite his effort to retract their advances. Soon, they go straight for their target and fondle him in “that special spot” despite his efforts to resist. Tisk-tisk, Eli; you’re giving physically attractive women a bad rap in this film. Or wait, maybe you’re just giving women a bad rap. The women seem to be wielding their physical attraction to some end, though we cannot tell what they want, except for the mere pleasure of successfully seducing their target.
Once Evan succumbs to their temptation, they morph into some combination of four-year-olds (with severe behavioral problems) and seasoned, vindictive sociopaths. They destroy his house and his wife’s artwork while abusing him, mostly psychologically but also physically. I can’t remember the last time I hated two movie villains so much. They act like such morons while committing absolutely horrendous acts. If I had to hang out with Hannibal Lector or these girls, I’d take Hannibal any day, even knowing that he might end up eating my liver “with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” For that, I applaud Roth’s directing and the script, both of which combined to make me feel deep-seated antipathy toward these women. Feminist concerns aside, the movie had the ability to elicit strong emotions. And I applaud the actresses, who had me totally sold. I think if I saw Ana or Lorenza on the streets in real life (an unlikely prospect in Erie, PA), I’d slap either girl instinctively and then mutter some embarrassed apology. Oh hey, I’m sorry. You were just so good in that movie that I see your face and automatically hate you.
There were, then, many commendable aspects of Knock Knock. But I have a two-pronged problem with Roth’s insinuation in the film: 1.) He seems to assume that a married man with a wife (who’s gorgeous and accomplished, by the way) and two kids, a man who seems like a really “good” guy, simply can’t control himself when he’s faced with some young hot chicks and his family is on vacation. And, from a slightly different vantage point, 2.) That rape or molestation, rather than being horrifying and degrading, is actually arousing if the women are young, beautiful, and the ones doing the raping or molesting (choose the word you deem appropriate).
I mean, if two women are accosting a man despite his resistance, is it “natural,” that, instead of being disturbed, disgusted, or emotionally affected, he becomes more aroused, even though there are (in this movie) hyperbolically enlarged pictures of his wife and kids all over the house? If you want to take this line of argumentation a step further, which I do, you could argue that Roth’s depiction of sex in this movie suggests that rape isn’t really a “thing” if a woman does it to a man. In other words: You can’t rape a man, because he really always wants it anyway. Or, to put it another way: Fondling a man against his consent isn’t rape. Secretly, he desires you. Look, see, he’ll capitulate eventually and have sex with you.
I consider myself a fairly adamant feminist, but a feminist argues for equality between men and women, and suggesting that men will disregard their marriages and respond to rape by propelling the sexual act forward is not regarding men and women equally. We would be mortified, as viewers, if the gender roles were reversed in this film, and women were willingly succumbing to rape. What message would that send? Also, significantly, at the end of the film, our sinister antagonists tell Evan that every man responds the way he did, furthering Roth’s insinuation that it’s just not possible to rape – or, at least, to violate – a man, even if he’s married, because he always really wants it. Nothing else much matters if the girls are pretty enough.
There is, also, the suspension of disbelief involved in accepting the film’s premise: If two young women make their way around a city, molesting men and then torturing them for “succumbing to temptation” by tying them up, gagging them, and destroying their homes, they would be caught by authorities almost immediately. And while Bel and Genesis seem to imply that they are somehow protecting or defending women by taking these actions, they say horrible things about Evan’s wife and spray paint starkly offensive messages on her pictures. One knows throughout the film that she is just as much a victim of their crime and abuse as her husband, though she’s not present for it, which raises the question: What, exactly, motivates these women? They incite trouble, and then use their so-called success as an excuse to perpetuate more trouble.
And in part, that’s Roth’s point—I think. If nothing else, he illustrates the sick perversity of their logic. There’s no message beyond that depiction, but one could deem the film an artistic exploration of a largely unknown – perhaps even invented – pathology. If you watch the film knowing and excusing Roth’s cultural assumptions and their implications, and set aside the problematic logistics of the situation he illustrates, then yes, it’s an enjoyable film. Like I noted, I was certainly engaged throughout. But, from a critical standpoint, his storyline is unfeasible and his suggestions about human sexuality and interaction are troubling, to say the least. Unless you believe that most women are corrupt, childish temptresses and most men are horny and deceitful, you may find that this film creates an unnecessarily bleak depiction of human nature. Based on my original assessment of The Green Inferno and my take on this movie, I’d say Eli Roth is a creative, talented filmmaker with an often troubling worldview, which makes for an unusual combination and gives his films bizarre, unexpected intrigue. I find myself thinking, Eli, no matter how much I disagree with you, I just have to wonder: What will you come up with next? I will, then, probably be writing about another one of his films in a future post.