February 4, 2023 Knock at the Cabin (Movie Review)
M. Night Shyamalan is a determined filmmaker. However, some might argue that his filmography could be more consistent. Ranging from brilliant (1999’s The Sixth Sense and 2000’s Unbreakable), to serviceable (2004’s The Village and 2015’s The Visit), to unspeakably bad (2008’s The Happening and 2010’s The Last Airbender), his work is really all over the map. That in mind, his latest film is one entitled Knock at the Cabin. Released in theaters on Friday, February 3, 2023 through Universal Pictures, while it easily falls into the ‘serviceable’ category, it is undoubtedly a genuine return to form for the filmmaker.
Running at one hour and forty minutes, Knock at the Cabin wastes no time getting into the thick of it. The story opens with a bizarre, unsettling dialogue scene in the woods between a young girl named Wen, played wonderfully by Kristen Cui, and a mysterious man named Leonard, played by the endlessly impressive Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 2017). It is a delicately placed scene of clever exposition. We immediately understand where both characters are emotionally coming from and that Leonard, despite his unnerving presence, appears to be a good person at his core. We soon meet Leonard’s cohorts, medical expert Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird: Jupiter Ascending 2015, Old 2021), neurotic mother Adriane (Abby Quinn: Radium Girls 2018, Torn Hearts 2022), and Boston-born hot head Redmond (Rupert Grint: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 2001, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 2009).
After realizing something is afoot, Wen retreats to the isolated cabin where she is vacationing with her two fathers, Eric (Jonathan Groff: Frozen 2013, Hamilton 2020) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge: Our Girl series, Fleabag series). It’s here that the tension skyrockets and never lets its foot off the gas when Leonard and his crew break into the cabin and have an epic, almost fight to the death with Eric and Andrew. Once the dust settles, Eric and Andrew find themselves tied to chairs and held hostage by what appears to be a suicide cult. Yes, that is correct. The fathers of Wen must make a huge decision. A looming apocalypse will destroy the rest of humanity if they do not kill a family member. Isn’t that the conundrum?
At its core, Knock at the Cabin is a stripped-down chamber Thriller. Nevertheless, a concept like this can only last so long if it is limited to one location. Thankfully, Shyamalan, who has never been
known for the typical convention, structures the film nicely. Almost like a rich novella. He effectively bounces around between past and present as we learn about the origins of Eric, Andrew, and Wen. Including an overview of the events that occurred before the opening shot. There are even a few hard-to-watch flashbacks where Eric’s parents’ brief visit and a barfly disrupt Eric and Andrew’s romance.
If there is a criticism of Knock at the Cabin is that the supporting members of Dave Bautista’s cult come off like caricatures. Never once do you feel threatened by any of them, including the loose
cannon member of the group, Redmond. Despite Redmond playing a critical part in the story… his performance is just too silly to take seriously. You can’t fault Grint for aggressively trying to bury the character of Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter franchise; however, even if you’re not a fan of those films, it’s still a struggle to buy his character. Despite all that, it would not be a surprise to see Rupert Grint pop up in more films by Shyamalan, considering he has a supporting role in the Apple + series Servant.
A significant cinematic device Shyamalan has been famous for since he blew people away with 1999’s The Sixth Sense is the art of the third-act twist. It has practically become part of his brand, and something audiences as well as critics alike expect when they step into the theater. However, that can be a blessing and a curse. For example, 2021’s Old had a bizarre and unsettling first half, but when it begins to explain itself in an over-the-top expository fashion, it makes the whole experience a letdown. In fact, if you lopped off the final 20-minutes of a Shyamalan film, they might be European. With Knock at the Cabin, though the third act is not necessarily ultra-exhilarating, it still ends when it needs to and does not overstay its welcome. Something a fair number of contemporary filmmakers can learn from.
Overall, Knock at the Cabin is a mostly successful attempt at creating maximum suspense within a contained landscape. Although it is not necessarily a standout, it is solidly enjoyable, given the uneven slate of M. Night Shyamalan films over the past 10-15 years. Unfortunately, it’s also a less successful (but admirable) swing at economic and social commentary.
Regardless, modify your expectations, and you might find Knock at the Cabin a breath of fresh air so early into a new year. That is why Cryptic Rock gives it 3.5 out of 5 stars.