Waiting for the End of the Movie

Waiting for the End of the Movie

Although it adapts Paul G. Tremblay’s La Cabane du bout du monde, M. Night Shyamalan’s new film takes a different approach. Knock at the Cabin is a specified tension, single-setting thrill exercise. It slides and zooms, as gorgeous as anything in the director’s filmography, even featuring one of the best performances he’s gotten from an actor with Dave Bautista doing a terrific job. Yet the emotional connection fades as the terror grows, a fun time in the movies unable to overcome a severe lack of attachment to the characters who must die for everyone else to survive.

Knock at the Cabin begins with Leonard (Bautista) approaching Wen (Kristen Cui, in a solid child performance) to catch grasshoppers with her. He speaks in a coded language, and once she’s worried enough, the girl heads back inside to her two fathers, Eric and Andrew, played by a subdued Jonathan Groff and a glowing Ben Aldridge, respectively. The first exudes subtlety, the second becomes almost a caricature of anger at the end of the thriller. Aldridge is exaggerated and his emotions become cartoonish, even though they are rooted in a heavy reality for many gay parents.

Leonard visits the family, along with associates Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint), all of whom believe the world is about to end. Dads and Wen must decide whether to sacrifice one of the three to save the impending apocalypse, and the story continues. Shyamalan throws flashbacks to show moments of joy and difficulty in Eric and Andrew’s relationship, including the efforts they make to feel accepted. These flashbacks pause the ongoing story, losing needed momentum as the director attempts to progress toward the finale. As the character’s background, Shyamalan understands the otherness they feel in their daily lives, including the choices they make to circumvent those who don’t welcome them. They have the same right to be happy, in love and to raise a child as anyone else.

Shot by Robert Eggers regular Jarin Blaschke, Knock features some of Shyamalan’s most inspired camera choices, and the scenery always seems to change inside this fairly small booth. There’s a reason the camera pans and rotates. It continues that sense of dread that Shyamalan cultivates, pushing the horror elements of the film. Using constant close-ups, Blaschke’s cinematography is overbearing and private, well-suited to Shyamalan’s direction. He remains relentlessly inventive over 25 years after his first feature, and for what it’s worth, the director’s cameo is also his best in years.

Bautista directs the cast with gentle gravity. It’s understood that he can be violent if he wants to, and any time he chooses patience, it works wonders. He speaks slowly, confidently and with great understanding. The wrestler-turned-actor is this film’s strongest asset, his emotion seeping into every line as the death toll mounts around him. It’s a great audition for Bautista to receive more dramatic opportunities to show off his talent beyond the physical.

Yet, once again, Shyamalan’s script fails him. He knows his position as the master of twists, and he does it again here, subverting audience expectations with an extra layer of thrills. But his characters aren’t realized — they focus solely on advancing the plot, something Shyamalan has struggled to avoid in his later films. If it gets credit for understanding its reputation and putting it to good use, Knock at the Cabin still registers as hollow. Its policies, however well-intentioned, are not fully studied. More than misunderstood, his characters are underwritten and underserved. Thus the expected emotion never arrives. The punch never comes, even when the music swells. All that fear vanishes; the message, the story and the numbers become fleeting. It begins with so much promise, ending as disappointment – like waiting for the end of the world only for the storm to pass.

Knock at the Cabin will be released on February 3.

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