“Knock at the Cabin” – A Tense and Emotional Shyamalan Thriller [Review]

After having a career and incredibly high highs and depressingly low lows, M. Night Shyamalan seems to be moving full speed ahead.  Following his “comeback” with The Visit and Split, he’s been busy, cranking out a new suspense/thriller film every 2 years: Split in 2017, Glass in 2019, Old in 2021, and now he’s kicking off 2023 with another adaptation, Knock at the Cabin.

Featuring several of his signature staples, Knock at the Cabin is another character driven drama/thriller that has some pretty big ideas in terms of ethics and philosophy.  It’s a tense movie that’s strong on character, and to Shyamalan’s credit, it avoids many of the common pitfalls or “Shyamalan-isms” he’s so famous (or infamous for).

Ruined Vacation
Jumping right into the action, Shyamalan wastes absolutely no time.  We’re quickly introduced to a little girl named Wen (Kristen Cui), as she’s on vacation in a remote cabin with her dads Erick (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Bed Aldridge).

Remote cabins have a rich history in horror films, but this one is very different from the rest…

Within the first few minutes of the movie, the titular knock at the cabin comes as Leonard (Dave Bautista) and his zealous compatriots (portrayed by Nikki Amuka-Bird, Rupert Grint, and Abby Quinn) force their way into the cabin and hold the family prisoner.

Right away, it’s very apparent that these are the most polite and friendly band of home invaders you’ve ever seen.  They’re mindful about not trying to cause too much damage, they do the best they can to subdue Eric and Andrew without causing them harm.  All four of them give great performances, but Bautista stands out especially.

He feels a strong sense of protection over the young Wen, especially given that he reveals himself to be a teacher and a coach.  But he’s also there to do a terrible job, and while he does his job without hesitation, it kills him inside to have to do it.

Rupert Grint had already worked with Shyamalan on his TV series Servant, and once again he proves that he can go to much darker places than we saw in the Harry Potter franchise.

Given that the four invaders were merely united by a common vision they had, they make for a very unlikely team that’s genuinely interesting and sometimes funny to watch.  Clearly none of them have ever done anything like this, and they spend as much time bickering with each other as they do trying to get the Eric and Andrew to make their grim choice.

Impossible Choice
Ultimately, this entire film revolves around this one family in this one cabin as they must make a choice: willingly sacrifice a family member or allow the apocalypse to happen.  The characters (and the audience) spend a large portion of the movie debating whether or not there actually is an apocalypse coming or if these zealots are engulfed in a shared delusion.

For a good bit of the film, it almost has a commentary about the nature of misinformation and the way in which the internet can create echo chambers and radicalize.  But at a certain point, the film seems to either abandon this theme altogether, or it just revealed that it had no intention of touching upon that at all.

The film forces its audience to think about that horrific choice for themselves, or what they would do in that situation.  Eric and Andrew initially think this is a targeted attack, given that they are a gay couple.  And while that detail seems coincidental to the plot itself, the fact that they’re a male/male couple with a child sort of makes them having to make that sacrifice all the more tragic.  Because via flashback we see how the world already treated them and how difficult it was for them to even have a child in the first place.

They run through the whole gamut of emotions, as well as the five stages of grief as they come to terms with the situation.

There’s also a fascinating subtext one could read into in regards to climate change and environmentalism. If we look at the family in question as humanity itself being forced to sacrifice some level of convenience or consumer culture for the greater good of the Earth itself.  Again, this is just an interesting theory, because the movie itself kind of tells you what it’s about in a frustrating way, which we’re about to get to.

Very much to his credit, M. Night Shyamalan co-wrote the screenplay with two other writers and it very much shows (in a good way).  It has all his usual markings with solemn characters and at times a very dry sense of humor that’s sometimes hard to notice.  But these characters and this dialogue are far less exposition-heavy as usual and (for the most part) they actually sound like real people.

Shyamalan has always done better with a smaller scale and smaller budget, and while this movie deals with a potentially world-ending event, it’s ultimately just about a small group of people in a single location trying to do what they think is best and right for the world.

That being said, the movie lingers about 5 minutes longer than it should, when in the final minutes Shyamalan decides to just flat out tell the audience what the movie was meant to be and what the symbolism was, which was notoriously the very worst thing about his last movie Old.

And it’s genuinely frustrating because we could have just as easily read into the other aforementioned potential themes.  But when the author insists on telling you their intent, it sort of ruins the chance for creative interpretation.

Overall, Knock at the Cabin is very much an M. Night Shyamalan film, so you definitely know what you’re in for.  That said, it lacks some of the massive issues his other films have, and manages to be a tense and interesting thriller.  In Shyamalan’s own filmography, it’s definitely on the same side as his better movies.

What did you think of Knock at the Cabin?  Let us know in the comments!

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