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Meet the Sundance Filmmakers #32: Why Eli Roth’s ‘Knock Knock’ Was His Hardest Film to Make

Meet the Sundance Filmmakers #32: Why Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Was His Hardest Film to Make

Eli Roth knows what Hollywood expects of him. That’s why he’s endeavored to change his stripes. He describes “Knock Knock,” his first film at Sundance to date, as a “sexually-charged thriller,” which is a deviation from the straight slasher genre pieces that were “Hostel” and “Cabin Fever.” But Roth’s studio-friendly reputation is misaligned with his own philosophy; below, he reveals that making films independently is a priority, and explains why making “Knock Knock” was more difficult than shooting a film in the far reaches of the Amazon.

What’s your film about, in 140 characters or less?

A married man left alone for the weekend is visited by two beautiful girls. What starts as a dark fantasy escalates into a horrific nightmare.

Now, what’s it REALLY about?

For me the film’s about how fragile the world we work so hard to create truly is, and how it can all be undone with one single thoughtless action. Another underlying theme is the destruction of creativity. What appears as art to one person is worthless garbage to another. To a creative person, that thought is terrifying. 

Tell us briefly about yourself.

I grew up in Boston dreaming of moving to Hollywood to make movies. I lived in New York City and worked on probably 100 different film productions before I made my first film at age 29. Every film I’ve done I have made independently. I write it, raise the money, shoot it, and sell it later to a distributor. I’m very fortunate they have found an audience. “Knock Knock” is no different.

What was the biggest challenge in completing this film?

Time. It was a tough shoot. My last film was shot in the Amazon in a village farther than anyone had ever brought cameras. That was a cakewalk compared to “Knock Knock.” It was just a hard shoot, everything was night, rain, and it’s my first truly performance-based film. I wanted to make an Adrian Lyne / Verhoeven / Polanski sexually-charged thriller. 

What do you want audiences at Sundance to take away from your film?

I want them to be surprised on every level. I know what people expect from me and in some ways I will deliver that but this is a different type of film for me. I also want people to fall in love with the cast. Lorenza Izzo and Ana De Armas are incredible new faces, and Keanu Reeves has never been better. He gives a superb performance. I think people are going to love him in this. 

Are there any films that inspired you?

Of course. This film was very inspired by the work of Peter Traynor, who is on as an executive producer. Also early Paul Verhoeven, Roman Polanski, Adrian Lyne, and David Fincher. 

What’s next for you?

I have not yet chosen my next project to direct. I’m writing and reading. Working on other TV projects as well. Season 3 of “Hemlock Grove” on Netflix is shooting, “South of Hell” on WeTV, which I produced with Jason Blum, and I have a new project coming out on Fox that will soon be announced….

What cameras did you shoot on?

Canon 1DC. Amazing 4K camera, looks stunning. Very cinematic. 

Did you crowdfund?

No. I am certainly not against crowdfunding, but I am in a fortunate position to have a group of financiers who want to finance my movies. Once Keanu was attached it was easy. We were funded by Camp Grey and Teddy Schwarzman’s Black Bear pictures. They were amazing. The best kind of financiers. They trust me and let me do my thing. 


Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. Click here for more profiles.

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