Movie Review: Knock At The Cabin
Knock at the Cabin is the latest film from director M. Night Shyamalan
Courtesy of Universal Pictures, Writer-Director M. Night Shyamalan’s New Film Is a Powerful Genre Story
Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has been beaten by critics over the years. If his work is mentioned politely, it is labeled as “hit or miss” or “uneven”. It’s not an unfair characterization, but it also applies to the vast majority of filmmakers who have managed to survive in Hollywood for thirty years.
So why has Shyamalan been such a magnet for outright vitriol from fans and critics alike? Maybe it’s because the hits (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs) are so good and the misses so bad (Lady in the Water, The Happening After Earth). Home run or strikeout. Feast or Famine. It’s the enduring curse of having huge box office and critical success before the age of 30. If you are capable of greatness, then that is expected every time you walk out the door. You are the child prodigy of whom much is expected.
Shyamalan’s latest, Knock at the Cabin, is a strong genre film if films about the eventual coming of the apocalypse are your cup of tea. Although the subject matter is gruesome, it is not a horror movie. It’s disturbing, disturbing even, but its purpose is not to scare you. Knock at the Cabin asks big existential questions about the fate of humanity and the nature of sacrifice in an increasingly selfish and skeptical world and wraps them in a well-made thriller.
At the start of the film, Wen (Kristen Cui) is spending time in a quaint cabin in the woods with her two fathers, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge). As Wen catches grasshoppers in a jar, she meets Leonard (Dave Bautista), a tall, tattooed man who should scare Wen off but manages to strike up a relationship with her. Wen informs Leonard that she’s not supposed to talk to strangers. He acknowledges that this is good policy before launching into a discussion of appropriate techniques to add to his collection of grasshoppers.
When Leonard’s three companions emerge from the woods carrying what appear to be weapons, Wen’s survival instinct kicks in. She rushes to the cabin to warn her two fathers who find themselves faced with the very real possibility of defending themselves against a home invasion in the middle of nowhere. Their phones don’t work and the family gun is safely locked away in a place where it is of little use.
Ben Aldridge, Kristen Cui and Jonathan Groff (left to right) play a family intertwined with a house… [+] invasion of cosmic proportions in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Knock at the Cabin”
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After the dust settles, the four intruders make it clear that they won’t harm Wen and his parents. The visions that have plagued them collectively for years are coming true, and they must present an ultimatum to the family of three. The end of the world is near and the only way to save all of humanity is for Eric, Andrew and Wen to make a bloody sacrifice. One of the three must kill another member of their little family. It can’t be suicide. It must be the sacrifice of one by the other. If the sacrifice is not made, the world as we know it will cease to exist.
The white noise and confusion created by this seemingly random threat is deafening to both men. They maintain the idea that they are targeted because they are a same-sex couple. They are wrong, but years of bigoted comments, critical stares and outright violence justify their mistrust. In our modern world of mass shootings and mental illness, the idea of a doomsday cult with murderous intent isn’t far-fetched, but the intruders are committed to doing them no harm. In fact, Eric and Andrew are politely asked to choose who they themselves wish to sacrifice for “the greater good”.
On one level, Knock at the Cabin is a cunning cat-and-mouse thriller in which three hostages too valuable to be killed by their captors try to escape from a deadly situation. On a metaphorical level, the film examines the nature of faith, the limits of doubt, and our belief or disbelief in life beyond our physical existence here on Earth. What emerges from this narrative pressure cooker is the portrait of a family who love each other dearly, giving the film the emotional stake necessary for an audience to be truly invested in its outcome. I haven’t attended an M. Night Shyamalan movie expecting to see a moving love story and yet that’s precisely what I found.
The entire cast is solid and grounds a potentially silly story with a sense of seriousness. If you think Dave Bautista can only serve physical action as Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, you’re wrong. His brief, but excellent work in Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is a good tonal comparison to his work here. His understated and heartfelt performance as Leonard, the leader of the apocalyptic visionaries, is key to the film’s success. The imminent end of the world is not a threat from Leonard. It’s a certainty. It is simply. Only Eric, Andrew and Wen can avert disaster for all of humanity. Leonard is not the threat; he is simply the messenger.
Shyamalan has always been a master visual stylist. Knock takes place almost entirely inside the titular cabin. Despite these alleged limitations in cinematography, the director’s effortless use of focus, extreme close-ups, and diopter shifts give the film a surreal visual vocabulary that accentuates the otherworldly story that unfolds. scrolls on the screen. (If you haven’t seen Servant, Shyamalan’s brilliant TV series on Apple TV+, you’ve missed out on a masterclass in creating compelling visuals in a cramped space.)
Knock at the Cabin is not a home run or a strike out. It may not be a smash hit, but it’s by no means a failure. It’s a solid genre film that falls somewhere between those extremes. The Internet loves its lists: best this or worst that. What happened to something being simply “good” or “bad”? There is nothing wrong with good. And there’s nothing wrong with spending a hundred minutes watching Knock at the Cabin.