Eli Roth has enjoyed a couple of good years. He directed two films, a couple of TV series (Hemlock Grove/One Minute Horror) and even produced a bunch of films. His 2013 film, The Green Inferno, was originally dropped by distributors yet became available for viewers earlier this year, while Roth’s 2015 film, Knock Knock, received perhaps the best reviews of his career. Roth also got married to Lorenza Izzo, a Chilean actress and model, who starred in her husband’s last two films and secured small roles in some of his TV productions. So, it’s been up and down for Roth (mostly up), and I can say that most of that good has come from his experience in my country: Chile.
Here in Chile, Roth has mostly been associated with the producing company Sobras International Pictures, which is helmed by the director-writer-producer Nicolás López, known internationally for his disaster film Aftershock (starring Roth as an unassuming American tourist caught up in a Valparaiso/Chilean earthquake). He’s known in his home country for directing comedies that appeal to the lowest common denominator, promoting dick jokes, midget humor, misogyny, and above all, films that aren’t actually funny, which is the greatest sin in an economy full of successful filmmakers within my country.
About three years ago, Lopez coined a term that he used for the style of his own films: Chilewood. The concept is that Chile — with its beautiful landscapes — could be a place for U.S. productions. A nice idea on paper, but when one notices the subsequent films (and the reasons for selecting Chile as a location), one may start to believe that something much more sinister is behind such operations, with the most important factor being that our audio/visual workers — whether for TV or cinema — aren’t unionized, and thus the foreign production expenses lower quite a bit.
But what does that have to do with Eli Roth and his film Knock Knock? Well, it’s directly a product of the Chilewood system, as it was filmed near the capital, Santiago. I bet if you didn’t look it up (or if I didn’t raise the fact), you’d probably never know that Knock Knock was filmed in my native country. So, here’s the thing about the beautiful localities used for filming… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The movie stars Keanu Reeves as Evan Webber, a designer artist, who lives with his family in a posh home where he is left alone for the weekend to work on an important assignment (while his wife and kids go to the beach to visit their grandparents). When night falls, he’s visited by two young girls (one of them played by, you guessed it, Lorenza Izzo) who are stranded and drenched by rain, looking for a supposed party near the classy neighborhood. Keanu tries hard to help as much as he can, whether it be their clothes, their malfunctioning phones or trying to find their location He calls up a product placement cab, only to later be seduced into having a night of unabashed sex with teenagers.
Much to the surprise of no one, the girls are up to no good, and when Keanu/Evan gets up in the morning, he realizes that these young girls have taken over his house, making a mess and dropping the bomb that will give them all the power and render Evan defenseless, as they are underage girls and he just fucked them. (I know they don’t look 15 as they say, however, just like the movie wants you to, believe it.)
It’s around this time (when the torture is well underway) that I imagined maybe there was a point to it all. That as much as we Chileans would like to think otherwise, Roth actually knows how to smuggle messages and ideology into his movies. And then I realized that maybe Keanu Reeves’ character represented Chile — my country – and a conspiracy theory was born, and thus, the metaphor was clear (and it paid out all the way to the end).
So, here’s my fair warning that what comes next discusses plot elements of Knock Knock, all the way from the start until the last frame of the film… so be warned.
Keanu Reeves represents Chilean Cinema: it works hard, it has some beautiful decorations, it has some films to be proud of, and it can sort of sustain itself through creative and original work. The two girls of Knock Knock represent both Eli Roth and Nicolás López, as they both have cooperated together, seemingly out of nowhere, and with a very seducing offer: they can make Chilean Cinema look great, and they can make it feel good. How?
Roth and Lopez have the promise that the money from foreign investors will come and flood the market, just like the girls of Knock Knock promise unknown pleasures (they even say something along the lines of “have they ever done this to you”). For Chile, and for Keanu, this is uncharted territory: unknown pleasures, unknown success… the possibilities of Evan’s casual fling aren’t what matters at the moment, it’s the pleasure itself that matters. Chilean Cinema has the chance to taste that grandeur of the Hollywood production, and all it has to do is follow the command of these two knowledgeable people who know how to make my country climax. What happened later, however, is what Chilean cinema didn’t expect.
In the film, as I’ve said before, these girls quickly find a way to blackmail Keanu into submission, and after trial and error, he finds himself unable to let them go where he wants, thus subjecting him to their whims and everything miserable. In essence, the narrative represents the way that Chilewood has treated its Chilean workers, and the credits undeniably highlight the amount of people on the technical side of the operation that are from my home country. Even if they imagine themselves to be working on a “Hollywood production” (just as much as Evan is made to believe that these girls are 15 years old), they are still working under awful conditions: no union, no vacations, no retirement, no nothing.
Obviously, the character abuse doesn’t just reflect the physical abuse of Chilean workers, as it’s physical too — almost as if the filmmakers were conscious of what they were doing to our cinema. In hindsight, these questions are both tricky and unnerving. For example, when Evan must tell how many men have survived, he answers none, and at this moment of Knock Knock, all I could think of was Bulgaria. Aside from dedicated cinephiles, nobody really knows much about Bulgarian Cinema, but I can bet some have seen more than at least three films that have been shot there. (Here’s a LIST.)
Has the film industry in any way benefited or expanded the international level of Bulgaria as a force in filmmaking due to its landscape? Or better yet – have the members of Chilewood improved the cinematic identity of my country because of its visuals? No, and background filmmaking isn’t what Chilean cinema should be all about.
In regard to Chilean landscapes, Knock Knock takes a blunt approach when the two girls decide to wreck Evan’s beautiful home. The careless destruction (and overall nastiness) represents what the filmmakers are doing to my country’s cinematic landscape. They say it’s about the locales, but they don’t use them. Instead, they mask them — they try to make it seem somewhere else — all the while making films that are absolutely unworthy of the country itself: subpar genre pictures with crass humor and non-conforming with most of the social values of today.
Don’t get me wrong. I love genre films, and horror is my favorite, but films like The Stranger, Aftershock and Knock Knock don’t help in terms of building a better view of what my country’s cinema could really be about (and how far it can go). It’s sad, because in many interviews Nicolás López has said that all the Chilean films he sees are basically worthless and don’t deserve to be shown in theaters. While his, on the other hand, well, you know the answer.
But let’s jump to the ending. The filmmakers show Keanu having sex with one of the girls — they tie him down and basically rape him. To put a nail in the coffin (of Evan’s entire existence), the moralistic filmmakers decide to punish this character for committing the mistake of being excited by girls (that went down on him), as he’s buried in the yard, with only his head sticking out. In front of him, the girls set down a phone containing video of the rape. The heinous act is being uploaded to Evan’s Facebook page, for all his friends and family to see. He is desperate. He struggles to get out of the predicament, and he obviously wants to stop the video from being shown. Meanwhile, the girls leave the house with all the goods that they can carry (including the dog).
Evan fights and finally has the chance to press a button. There are two on the screen of his phone: “delete” and “like.” In a rush to press a button (while suffering immensely), he presses the “like” button by accident. Evan cries and yells. The filmmakers cut to the arrival of his family — back to a house after the beach weekend — and they witness the disaster. The wife of Keanu’s Evan is horrified, but the kid appears to be awe-struck, as he sees everything and says something along the lines of “Dad had an amazing weekend.”
I hate explaining the film in detail, but I see a conspiracy theory so clearly that I have to go beat by beat. The recorded video — the rape — represents the Chilean movies of Lopez and Roth, as they literally abuse our country, the workers, the localities — and then they release the film for the world to see; they cash what they can and leave, with my country suffering even more thanks to this cinematic abomination.
Everyone will watch Knock Knock — everyone WILL see the film — and we can’t seem to do anything other than “like” it. The press will discuss the film and say how it’s good for our film industry (and how someone like Keanu Reeves made a movie here), but no one cares if the movie is atrocious. No one SEES the movies, all they care about is the (little) cash left behind and the reputation that it COULD have for our future. Film in Chile, please! Sure, film in Chile and have your movie rape my beautiful country once again… please.
In the end of Knock Knock, the kid represents a worldwide audience, as he enjoys the spectacle, and hey, to be honest, some may actually like what’s happening, while some may not (like the wife). I don’t blame them, and I don’t think anyone is doing anything wrong by liking Knock Knock. But they don’t know that behind all that, there’s a man crying, with only his head out of the yard representing a whole country whose reputation is lowered to being just a background place where Hollywood movies can be made cheaply, because the people here conform with little. They don’t know, they only see the spectacle; they haven’t peeked in the yard just yet.
And I’m sorry if this is the first you’ve heard of my country’s cinematic rape.
Jaime Grijalba (@jaimegrijalba) is from Chile and has been writing about film, literature, videogames and culture for the past six years. He’s also preparing his first feature-length film, since he’s a filmmaker too (or wants to be at least).