Thanks to some distribution migraines, American moviegoers are getting two Eli Roth movies in the space of a few weeks — which are also the first two features he’s directed himself since “Hostel Part II” back in 2007. “The Green Inferno,” just released after first hitting festivals two years ago, is his cannibal movie, while the new “Knock Knock” is something comparatively nicer: a mere psychological thriller. Roth’s real-life wife, Lorenza Izzo, stars in both, in the latter as one of two young women (the other played by Ana de Armas) tormenting a middle-aged dad (Keanu Reeves), who’s home alone when they show up. Both Roth and Izzo came to New York to talk about things not always associated with his horror films: his wanting to evolve into an actor’s director, honesty in relationships and an old Czech New Wave film that he’s crazy about.
It is strange talking about two films instead of one. Though I think there’s some overlap between the two.
Eli Roth: I think of “The Green Inferno” as my farewell to horror. I don’t know where I could go from there. It’s the last of my travel trilogy. But it’s different from “Hostel.” There they want to have sex. In “The Green Inferno” they want to protest to save the Amazon. But really it’s because they want to be recognized for saving the Amazon. I “Knock Knock” it’s about the dangers that happen when you don’t leave your own home — when trouble comes to you and you invite it into your own house.
“Knock Knock” is especially focused on the performances. At times it’s like a play.
Roth: They’re the first movies I directed post-“Inglourious Basterds.” I really learned so much from Quentin while working as an actor. I wanted to show I was an actor’s director. In my previous films I wanted the gore and the kills to be spectacular, and they often overshadow the performances of the actors. But I think the acting is what makes those things work. Heather Matarazzo’s performance in “Hostel II” — that’s why that scene is effective. In “The Green Inferno” I wanted to make a film that looked different from my other films. It’s really a jungle adventure. In the video store you could put it on the horror shelf, but it also belongs with “Apocalypto” and Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” and “Aguirre: The Wrath of God” — as well as, obviously, Umberto Lenzi and Rugero Deodato films, like “Cannibal Holocaust.” But then “Knock Knock,” after all the blood in “The Green Inferno,” I really wanted to make a very controlled film that was tense but without a drop of blood. [Ed. For the record, there’s a tiny amount of blood in it.] It was about the performances. It was really a showcase for Keanu Reeves and what incredible range he has. He goes from being a nice dad to a feral animal, growling and snarling by the end. And I really wanted to write a role for Lorenza, and for Ana de Armas.
Lorenza Izzo: I think he is an actor’s director. It’s easy to say that and a lot of people say that, but I say that in the sense that he doesn’t feel like he’s above me. He’s constantly on my level, especially when we were in the Peruvian jungle, which is really scary. But you feel like you have a leader and a teammate who will know where you are when you’re lost.