Knock at the Cabin – Movie Review

Knock at the Cabin

  • Director: M. Night Shyamalan
  • Writers: M. Night Shyamalan, Steve Desmond & Michael Sherman
  • Starring: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Rupert Grint, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn

Grade: B

Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World was published in 2018, long before “coronavirus” or COVID-19 became a part of the cultural lexicon. Nevertheless, the film adaptation, retitled Knock at the Cabin and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, feels like an almost direct commentary on the global pandemic that’s ensnared the world for the last three years. The film began production in 2022 long after restrictions had loosened on film sets, but its contained nature similarly gives it the feel of a “COVID production” – and that’s not meant to be taken derogatorily.

Shyamalan’s film has more on its mind than a global apocalypse, which gives it some of its greatest strengths. After the tonal misfire that was Old, Knock at the Cabin feels like a more restrained Shyamalan, generally abstaining from goofy conspiracies or contrivances for the sake of finale twists. Perhaps that has to do with the source material; perhaps it’s because the script was initially written by Steve Desmond & Michael Sherman before Shyamalan took a pass at it. Regardless, the film hems incredibly faithfully to the novel, with the exception of a minor tweak to the ending (no spoilers, of course).

The story deals with themes of self-delusion and our current state of dangerous conspiracy theorists, not to mention religious extremism, but it does so in a way that isn’t overbearing or exhausting. It concerns a gay couple, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and their adopted daughter Wen (Kristen Cui), vacationing at a remote lakeside cabin. Suddenly, a foursome of strangers led by Leonard (Dave Bautista) show up and reveal that they have arrived to stop the apocalypse. Unfortunately, in order to do so, one of the three must sacrifice themselves. With each passing hour in which they don’t make a choice, another global tragedy strikes, thus making the coming darkness more imminent.

Dave Bautista, who has made no secret of wanting to distinguish himself as a serious actor, is pitch-perfect as Leonard. A hulking, menacing figure with a gentle nature, Bautista threads the needle extraordinarily well. If Hollywood didn’t take his talents seriously enough already, Knock at the Cabin will provide all the evidence necessary. Groff and Aldridge are equally strong, playing into their character’s convictions well, despite being tied to chairs for a majority of the film.

Of course, the most overt theme within Knock at the Cabin, and the one that ties the events of the film to today, lies in its treatment of homosexuality. It’s no coincidence that Andrew and Eric are a gay couple under attack by a group of outsiders, not unlike the LGBTQ community at large in America. Still, the film never hits us over the head with the idea as much as it could have. Nor does the film – or the marketing, for that matter – feel self-congratulatory in its handling of gay acceptance.

At a clean 100 minutes, the film moves along at a nice clip, pacing its thrilling set pieces with its more calm moments efficiently. And though this is Shyamalan’s first R-rated film since The Happening, most of the violence occurs off-screen and it’s relatively bloodless. There is a rewatchability factor that’s surprisingly lacking in the film, though. Old, for all its faults, left clues here and there that could be picked up in subsequent viewings. Those are mostly absent in Knock at the Cabin, though I would take a lean suspense thriller over a bloated mythology any day of the week.

While I don’t know if Knock at the Cabin will clear up any of Shyamalan’s cultural reputation – there are a few goofy moments that could have easily been avoided – the film goes to show he can still effectively direct suspense and horror. He’s far from the cultural punching bag he was after films like After Earth or Avatar: The Last Airbender, but Knock at the Cabin and, to a lesser extent, Old, are steps in the right direction, giving me hope for his future films. And that’s a plot twist I did not see coming.

Knock at the Cabin will be released in theaters nationwide on February 3.


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