Knock At The Cabin does suffer from a lot of the shortcomings of M. Night Shyamalan’s previous efforts, but never goes to the lows of his absolute worst efforts, however low that bar may be.
I have a very turbulent relationship with M. Night Shyamalan, as I imagine most do. I think most agree that his initial run from The Sixth Sense to The Village was certainly good, if not great. It was his run from Lady In The Water to After Earth, which took a historic plummet, with The Happening and The Last Airbender potentially being two of the worst movies ever made. He seems to have since regained some critical recognition and respect again ever since The Visit, but for me, he’s still a bit of a mixed bag. While I thought Old was on par with The Happening of being amongst his worst, I also found Split to be amongst his absolute best. But despite all that, I still went into Knock at the Cabin with low expectations, probably due in part how I felt about Old, his latest feature before this. And while technically my expectations were surpassed, I still had a very mixed experience.
In Knock at the Cabin, a couple, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and their adopted daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui) are on a vacation at a remote cabin in New Jersey. Their vacation is interrupted when four home intruders (Dave Bautista, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Rupert Grint and Abby Quinn) tie them up and tell them they must sacrifice one of the family members in order to prevent the apocalypse. The rest of the movie follows the family as they not only grapple with the horrific decision they’ve been tasked to make, but also try and figure out if their choice actually would actually prevent the apocalypse.
Knock at the Cabin does suffer from a lot of the shortcomings of M. Night Shyamalan’s previous efforts, but never sinks to the lows of his absolute worst efforts, however low that bar may be. The dialogue is classic Shyamalan levels of bad. Such awkward dialogue such as, “Show us what you’re packing, daddy Andrew, we all love show-and-tell,” or the awful timing of the line, “I think you were chosen ’cause your love is so strong.” It’s a classic case of Shyamalan trying to be both natural and interesting at the same time, and it almost all comes off as nothing more than awkward.
Also, I really didn’t like the cinematography choices on display here. A lot of the time, the blocking just doesn’t feel correct. Sometimes the shots focus on one character on the far right of the screen, and the rest of the shot is just a bunch of dead air. And when it’s not that, there’s a lot of awkward extreme close-ups; sometimes those close-ups are on dutch angles which I don’t know if Shyamalan was going for something in particular there, but it did not work for me.
But for as thin as the concept is, Shyamalan is somehow able to stretch it out pretty wide. The movie wastes absolutely no time, gets right into the main conflict almost immediately with Kristen Cui’s pretty creepy interaction with Dave Bautista, who gives a standout performance and continues to show us he’s one of our most versatile actors. The movie introduces the main conflict within the first ten minutes, and the rest of the movie just rides off of that for the rest of the run time. It does begin to follow a pattern that could be considered repetitive, (and to a certain technical degree, it was a little repetitive) but it didn’t feel that way.
I really liked the way the choice was reflected through the parents’ perspective. Groff and Aldridge’s characters are clearly both approaching this in two different ways; Aldridge’s character is fully on the side of “this is all a lie, you guys are crazy” while Groff is sort of buying into it. There are clues that Shyamalan places throughout the film that support both theories that actually did make me question a lot. That was very effective. Placing us in the mindset of the protagonists is key to making a thriller. Another aspect of a good thriller is effective antagonists and this movie has that. The four intruders aren’t a bunch of crazy lunatics; instead they’re soft-spoken, understanding, even polite. They clearly don’t want to be there; they just have to, which is honestly freakier then if they were mad men.
But while Shyamalan did do a good job of creating a tense atmosphere, it’s not a very exciting movie. It does sometimes take a stroll outside of the cabin, but for the most part, it mainly takes place inside the cabin on this one storyline, and while the circumstances make it intense, it’s not to a point where my blood is pumping. On top of all that, it does sometimes cut back to show the family’s past, which in theory isn’t a bad idea, but the execution is weak. The flashbacks sometimes come at the most awkward time, and it does nothing but halt momentum. And all this is leading up to a conclusion that’s fairly obvious. It’s almost spelt out where it was going to go in the end, and I didn’t feel Shyamalan even earned that ending.
M. Night Shyamalan has always been an ambitious filmmaker, and I can’t in good faith bash him for taking swings; it’s the swings itself that wind up being whiffs. Knock at the Cabin is not his worst movie, not by a long shot. It does have redeeming qualities found in the tension that Shyamalan builds and its cast. But it’s a fairly unspecial experience and one that I don’t see myself ever seeing again.
Should be Considered: Best Actor (Dave Bautista)
Where to Watch: In Theaters
Critic and journalist student from Toronto, Canada
Favorite Actor: Brendan Fraser