Due to the overwhelming popularity of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan has been pigeonholed as a director whose films always have a twist ending. While some of his movies after those two initial breakouts have indeed had third act rug-pulls, the majority of his work tends to be based on an elevator pitch of an idea that begs resolution. The Happening‘s was “why are people spontaneously killing themselves?” Old‘s was “what’s going on with this beach?” After Earth‘s was “who told Shyamalan it was a good idea to make this movie?” His latest high concept contraption, Knock At The Cabin, sports another tantalizing quandary but instead of the open-ended mystery that Shyamalan typically favors, there are really only one of two possible general resolutions for this specific gambit.
The story is set around a family of three — fathers Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), along with their seven-year-old daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) — as they vacation at a secluded cabin in the woods. While collecting grasshoppers, Wen is approached outside the cabin by Leonard (Dave Bautista), a hulking second grade teacher who exchanges questions with her. Things get more ominous when three others in Leonard’s group — Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Redmond (Rupert Grint) — also emerge from the woods brandishing makeshift weapons. Wen runs inside to warn her dads of the approaching quarrelsome quartet, who force their way into the cabin after a struggle and make a severe claim: that one of the three family members must willingly sacrifice themselves in order to prevent a closely impending apocalypse.
It would stand to reason that the rest of Knock At The Cabin from that point on would be a psychological thriller, wherein the family being held hostage would engage in a battle of wits with the interlopers to gain the upper hand. But that’s already making the assumption that the invaders are incorrect and misguided in their conviction that the world will end very soon if this sacrificial act isn’t carried out. Shyamalan instead spends most of the running time setting up a binary equation where we won’t know whether or not the apocalyptic premonitions are founded until the very end of the movie. Not only does this limit the scope and impact of the inevitable conclusion but it makes the preceding events more redundant than they needed to be. Leonard poses the question “will you make a choice?” to the family repetitively and takes action when they routinely refuse to commit the necessary penance; in the immortal words of Rush: “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
After Old, Knock At The Cabin is the second movie in a row that Shyamalan has adapted from existing source material; this time, he’s recruited co-writers Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman to bring Paul G. Tremblay’s novel The Cabin at the End of the World to the screen. While Old was seemingly affected by the fact that it was shot during the COVID-19 pandemic, with unappealing cinematography and awkward editing that tried to disguise that the actors weren’t on set at the same time, Shyamalan’s latest effort isn’t marred by the same issues. The camerawork by Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer has some flashy tricks up its sleeve but mainly settles for a handsome yet foreboding palette upon which these characters can express their anxieties and intentions. A few sequences, like one in which two characters struggle for a gun in a thumbprint-locked safe, crackle with an energy that isn’t sustained throughout the movie.
Bautista continues a streak of acting wins following last year’s Glass Onion and a smaller part in Dune: Part One that will likely be expanded in Dune: Part Two later this year. As the main spokesman for the four antagonists, he proves that he has the dramatic chops to lead an ensemble chamber piece like this. As with other wrestlers-turned-actors, filmmakers have learned how to use his oversized frame to their advantage. Leonard is positioned as a gentle giant whose hand is forced by supernatural circumstances; in his introductory scene with Wen, the pair even take turns plucking flower petals to invite allusions to Frankenstein. Shyamalan is able to create suspense for a few minutes at a time but the longer Knock At The Cabin goes on, the more obvious it becomes that he loses sight of the story that he ultimately wants to tell.
Score – 2/5
New movies coming this weekend:
Coming only to theaters is Magic Mike’s Last Dance, the conclusion to the Magic Mike trilogy starring Channing Tatum and Salma Hayek Pinault following the titular male stripper as he heads to London with a wealthy socialite who lures him with the offer of a lifetime.
Streaming on Amazon is Somebody I Used To Know, a romantic comedy starring Alison Brie and Jay Ellis about a workaholic whose trip to her hometown reunites her with an ex-boyfriend and finds her meeting a young woman who reminds her of the person she used to be.
Premiering on Netflix is Your Place Or Mine, another romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher about a man who looks after the teenage son of his best friend while she pursues a lifelong dream as they swap houses for one life-changing week.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup