Knock at the Cabin review

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast : Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn Rupert Grint
Genre: Thriller
Run Time : 100 min
Opens : 16 February 2023
Rating : R21

M. Night Shyamalan is a divisive filmmaker, but through the ups and downs of his career, his name on a poster is still a selling point. Shyamalan’s adaptation of Paul Tremblay’s novel The Cabin at the End of the World sees him back in the horror thriller genre he’s done most of his work in, and again making audiences ask, “could this work?”

In a Pennsylvanian forest, seven-year-old Wen (Kristen Cui) is catching grasshoppers. She is on vacation with her adoptive parents Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge). She comes across a stranger known as Leonard (Dave Bautista), who later reveals he is accompanied by three others: nurse Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), diner cook Adriane (Abby Quinn) and ex-convict Redmond (Rupert Grint). Each wielding a makeshift weapon, the intruders hold Eric, Andrew and Wen hostage, claiming that a series of divine visions foretelling the end of the world has led them to the family. The ultimatum: either Eric, Andrew or Wen will have to die to save humanity. Eric and Andrew initially believe they are the target of a twisted hate crime, but as disastrous events unfold, it becomes possible that the four strangers might be telling the truth.

Knock at the Cabin has a few things working for it: it features an ensemble of interesting actors and is largely contained within one setting and takes place across one day, making it feel like the scope of the story is always manageable even when the stakes get higher. There are moments when it feels almost achingly earnest, and it is about a very sweet, loving family facing an unimaginable crisis. Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge and Kristen Cui do make for a sympathetic family unit. There are moments in Knock at the Cabin that effectively generate the sense of “what would you do if you were in this scenario?” that make a movie compelling. Shyamalan is good at generating tension and playing around with the atmosphere, without resorting to too many cheap horror movie tricks. The cinematography by Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer is warm and tactile, and the silent moments of tension are when Knock at the Cabin is its strongest.

Griffin Newman, co-host of the podcast Blank Check with Griffin and David, described Shyamalan as a “cilantro filmmaker”, which seems apt. His work is wont to elicit strong reactions and he can be divisive. Most of the dialogue and some of the acting in Knock at the Cabin feel highly unnatural, mannered and stilted. It can be hard to determine if this was intentional and if it all adds up to the overall unsettling effect, or if Shyamalan is just bad at certain aspects of filmmaking. One could argue that for a movie to be relatable, the characters whom the audience is meant to identify with should come off as much like real people as possible, and nobody in Knock at the Cabin really does.

Shyamalan’s previous movie Old was mocked for dialogue including one character saying “I am a doctor,” with another replying “I am a nurse. My name is Jarin.” A lot of the dialogue in Knock at the Cabin is like this. Shyamalan shares screenwriting credit with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman – it sounds like they wrote the initial draft, that Shyamalan then rewrote, so it is reasonable to attribute at least some of the dialogue to Shyamalan. The movie also requires more than one giant leap of faith from the audience and a lot of how much one enjoys it depends on one’s willingness to just go along with things.

The movie’s secret weapon is Dave Bautista. Eric and Andrew are arguably the main characters, but Bautista is top-billed. The Leonard character is something of a gentle giant, a teacher committing unimaginable acts of violence because of an unwavering belief in divine provenance. It’s not an easy thing to sell, especially when working with Shyamalan’s dialogue, but Bautista does a fantastic job. He has made no secret of wanting to be taken seriously as an actor, and more than proves he continues to deserve that.

The other three intruders are not given as much to do, and can sometimes seem like plot devices, but it is fun to see Rupert Grint as a truly scuzzy, unlikeable character. Nikki Amuka-Bird, whom Shyamalan previously cast in Old, plays the contradictions of her character (a nurse about to commit murder) well. Unfortunately, Abby Quinn feels somewhat stranded, over-playing her character’s neuroses, something which is thrown into sharper relief by the movie’s reliance on extreme close-ups.

Summary: Knock at the Cabin is built on a fascinating premise and manages to be intermittently unsettling and chilling. A chamber piece, its small scale means it isn’t overly ambitious, despite concerning no less than the impending end of the world. The ensemble is generally good, with Dave Bautista continuing to prove himself as a legitimately compelling dramatic actor. Unfortunately, as with many M. Night Shyamalan movies past, the often stilted and unnatural dialogue seems to trap the actors, creating a barrier between the audience and the story. Not all of it works, but the parts that do are worthwhile.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong


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