USA 2023 Director: M. Night Shyamalan Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan, Steve Desmond, Michael Sherman (based on the short story The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay) Cast: Paul Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint Genre: Thriller Premiere: February 3rd.
Picture it: You and your family have rented a cabin deep in the forest. The place is idyllic. There is even a small lake beside it with a jetty from which you can swim. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and there is much to discover for the youngest. None of the world’s many worries have followed you out here.
But then they come. There is only one at first. He tries to befriend the youngest in the family. He seems tense and nervous like he doesn’t want to do this. Then three more arrive. They have homemade weapons with them as they walk toward the cabin, determined to do what they believe they must.
Knock at the Cabin is M. Night Shyamalan’s latest thriller. We meet the small family of three: Eric (played by Jonathan Groff), Andrew (played by Ben Aldridge) and their young adopted daughter Wen (played by Kristen Cui). And for those who pay extra attention to what I write, this is a family where little Wen says «Daddy Eric» and «Daddy Andrew». They have rented a cabin in the forest. The idyll is complete.
First comes Leonard (played by Dave Bautista). He seems kind and caring but nervous. His massive shoulders and tattoos don’t quite match his soft-spoken demeanor as he tries to befriend little Wen. Shortly afterward, the other three arrive and, with a mixture of murder and torment in their eyes, make their way to the small cabin in the forest and politely ask to be let in. It is a matter of life and death, says Leonard. When they are still not allowed in, they break down the doors and windows and quickly take the little family prisoner.
The four seem both frightened and fanatical about their shared purpose. The small family must choose one of them that the other two will kill. Otherwise, the world will end. And every time they refuse to choose, a large number of people will be judged and annihilated.
It is not difficult to argue that M. Night Shyamalan’s films are in a category all on their own. Or is it perhaps that he borrows, steals, lets himself be inspired or simply copies from other filmmakers to create something new? Depending on who you ask, M. Night Shyamalan is either a cinematic genius or wildly pretentious. Maybe he is both?
Knock at the Cabin is one of M. Night Shyamalan’s best films since the early 2000s. The film is still very «Shyamalan-esque» with long takes, unusual camera angles and events and action often happening off-screen. And as with most of M. Night Shyamalan’s work, the director can almost be heard over the soundtrack shouting, «Look at my direction! Look at that! Isn’t it great??» His films are rarely subtle.
What elevates Knock at the Cabin over the director’s other work is its stellar cast. Dave Bautista excels in the role of Leonard and proves, yet again, that the tired old stereotype that big, musclebound actors can only play action heroes or villains is dead. Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge and Rupert Grint (yes, the guy from Harry Potter!) all played very good roles, and the same can be said of young Kristen Cui in the role of Wen. Together, they manage to make what we see on screen creepy and disturbing without resorting to blood, guts, knife-wielding psychos and cheap jump scares. What makes it all so very effective is the four antagonists’ combination of cold determination, genuine compassion and bottomless fear. They are scared. They say they have no choice, and it’s frighteningly easy to believe them.
Knock at the Cabin is about belief in the unbelievable and about how we perceive disasters and misery that happen in the world around us – often with a shrug as long as it’s something we watch on TV. That wouldn’t happen here, would it? But how far would you really go if you could prevent it?
The film is based on Paul Tremblay’s novel The Cabin at the End of the World from 2018. If you have read the novel, you will notice some relatively significant changes in the film adaptation. Any adaptation should have its changes from the source material, and even though changes have been made in Knock at the Cabin, they do not change the course of events to any significant degree.
Writing about M. Night Shyamalan’s films is often tricky without entering spoiler territory. Those who know his films know what to expect here. «The Shyamalan Twist» has become a term of its own and an inspiration for numerous memes; when it becomes so common to have a twist in the plot that a real twist would be if it weren’t there in the first place. It’s rarely a positive thing to say about a film.
Now I’m not going to say whether there is a twist in Knock at the Cabin or not. You’ll have to find that out for yourself.