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“KNOCK KNOCK”: Eli Roth on the importance of performance and the destruction of art

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Eli Roth takes a turn from his previous brand of horror with the sexy shocker KNOCK KNOCK, which hits Blu-ray, DVD and digital today from Lionsgate Home Entertainment. The writer/director talks about that difference and more below.

In KNOCK KNOCK, Keanu Reeves plays a family man left alone at his home for a holiday weekend. The first night, two beautiful young women (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas) come knocking, claiming to be stranded, but it soon turns out they have darker intentions. Scripted by Roth, Nicolás López and Guillermo Amoedo (based on the ’70s thriller DEATH GAME), KNOCK KNOCK emphasizes psychological torment over the graphic violence seen in Roth’s HOSTEL films and THE GREEN INFERNO.

KNOCKKNOCKROTHCOMMNEWS1“I think that in my previous movies, the violence has overshadowed the performances,” the filmmaker tells Fango. “But I’ve always said that I think the reason those movies are effective—the reason the HOSTEL films work—is because the acting is so good: Derek Richardson when he’s in pain and Jay Hernandez begging for his life in HOSTEL, and Heather Matarazzo in HOSTEL: PART II. When you watch characters like that, and certainly the same goes for Aaron Burns and Lorenza in GREEN INFERNO, when the characters are suffering, it’s so real that it complements the violence. Often, though, the blood stains the viewer’s eyes, and that’s OK, there’s nothing wrong with that, but with KNOCK KNOCK, I wanted to do something that was really a performance piece.

“Keanu is such an amazing actor,” Roth continues. “It’s no accident that the guy’s been famous since the ’80s, and he had never played a father before, so I really wanted to give him a venue that could show his acting range. He was such an obvious choice for the role, and he’s so funny; people forget how funny he is. He makes himself vulnerable, and has this crazy arc of going from a nice, sweet, somewhat repressed dad to this crazed animal. And for the actresses, I wanted to write something that could show Lorenza’s range; she played the innocent victim in GREEN INFERNO, and now she’s the perpetrator in KNOCK KNOCK. And we were very lucky to find Ana de Armas, a fantastic Cuban actress. It was not originally written as a Latin part, but it was just such a natural for her and Lorenza, because Lorenza’s first language is Spanish, so we could throw in the two of them speaking Spanish to each other—just kind of conspiring amongst themselves. It felt like a natural fit.”

While the blood and body count may be lower, KNOCK KNOCK does see plenty of violence visited upon the Reeves character’s beautifully appointed home, and works of art created by his absent wife. “I’m interested in the nature of art and destruction, how difficult it is to create something and how easy it is to destroy something,” Roth says. “I’m fascinated by the idea that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and one person’s art is another person’s garbage. The girls spray-paint on the wall, ‘Art does not exist,’ but the wife is an artist and that’s her whole world; everything she does is a work of art. But is the object itself art, or is it art because someone else places a value on it, and says that it is? Is art just a construct based on what we decide, or is there something inherently artistic about someone’s creation?

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“I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of both sides with HOSTEL, where in France it was hailed as the best American movie of the decade and a work of art, and in the U.S., people trash it and call it garbage and pornography. So I find it interesting that as a creator, you can’t control what people say about your work. My job is to just tell the story, and that’s it, and let people make of it whatever they want. My mother’s a painter, and she shows in galleries in New York and Los Angeles and Chicago, and I remember moving the paintings and how careful you had to be. And there’s this worst-nightmare scenario of, what if someone came in and slashed them and spray-painted them, and how horrible that would be. In a strange way, with the destruction of the wife’s statues, I’ve taken out hacking up body parts and replaced it with chopping off the arms and heads of her work. To me, that’s actually more painful, in a crazy way; it’s like, you know when you’re killing someone in a movie, it’s fake, but when you watching the girls destroy those sculptures, you know they’re really doing it.”

Check out our review of KNOCK KNOCK here, and more words from Roth here.

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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