Knock at the Cabin and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by M Night Shyamalan
M Night has had one of the more interesting career revivals as his latest film are not quite reaching the peak of his earlier work, but they’ve been solid features that have made a decent amount of money, so he’s gained much of his prestige back after being thought of as a joke for over a decade. Is his latest mysterious picture even more evidence that the king of twists is clawing his way back on top, or will it turn out that the hope he inspired in us was his greatest twist of all? Let’s find out!!
Eric and Andrew (Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge) are just trying to have a pleasant holiday with their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui), but things just can’t seem to go right! They have no cell service in their cabin, DoorDash isn’t willing to deliver this far out into the woods, and if that wasn’t bad enough, four religious fanatics with makeshift weapons and color-coordinated outfits have broken into their vacation home and tied them to a couple of chairs! The leader of the group is Leonard (Dave Bautista) who informs this unlucky family that the apocalypse is coming and there’s only one very arbitrary way to avoid it that no one here is going to like. The other three intruders, Sabrina, Adriane, and Redmond (Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, and Rupert Grint) plead their case as best as they can, but it’s certainly a hard sell and time is running out as the world seems to start crumbling around them. Will Eric, Andrew, and Wen be able to escape from their tormentors before they do something even more drastic? Is this just a simple case of mass hysteria as the four intruders see fate where there’s only coincidence, or is there more to the story than can be rationally understood? Seriously, what’s with the matching shirts? It’s not exactly something you’d do if you DIDN’T want to come off as complete weirdos!
This is exactly the kind of thought-provoking genre shlock that M Night excels at and is yet another film to add to the good pile along with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and whichever of his last handful of movies were better than you expected. The premise is one of those ingeniously simple yet immensely intriguing sci-fi thriller setups that would fit right at home in the heyday of the genre. It’s the kind of story that’s just as much about making you consider your own feelings on the questions it raises as much as it is about watching these particular characters go through it, and that’s where the writing shines as it has enough breathing room between the big tense moments to truly marinate in its ideas. It’s not even the big Trolley Problem at the heart of the movie that keeps you engaged as that’s more of a gimmick than anything else; it’s the way that every player in this bizarre tragedy brings their own agenda into it with their very human response. Is it worse that the intruders come into this with as much kindness as they can muster in such an impossibly cruel scenario? Do their clear anguish and foolish hope for forgiveness and understanding make them bigger monsters than if they used more cruelty and fear? Then again, it’s not like we’re Eric and Andrew in this situation; we’re the rest of the world that’s presumably on the brink of destruction if they don’t make a terrible choice, so how does the situation change if we view it as the outsiders looking in? The clear sense of victimization in the perpetrators, especially when contrasted with the marginalized family they are doing this to, is a rather potent flashpoint for the rest of the movie’s ethical and philosophical quandaries to spiral around, and Shyamalan’s direction manages to hold your hand just enough as it walks you through these dicey feelings. It definitely helps that everyone turns in a solid, if a little histrionic, performance with the standout being the giant teddy bear that walks like a man, Dave Bautista. Bautista may have the physique of an action star, but he seems to have no interest in being one. He’s just too sincere of an actor to want to play someone who isn’t real and with this, he turns in what has to be the darkest and most deeply disturbed character of his entire career; yes, even more so than Drax the Destroyer. Sadly, I can’t say it quite sticks the landing, as is often the case with such high-concept stories like this. It’s a bit clunky as we barrel our way towards the ending with some odd jumps in time and what I think are some bending of the established rules, and I feel like there’s a bit too much railroading in the narrative. It leads us down such an inevitable path that the rest of the movie almost feels like a mere diversion as we get to the meat of what needs to happen, and on a personal level, I can’t exactly get behind such a bleak denouement as things get pretty hard to watch at the end. Still, to the movie’s immense credit I can say that it handles this particular stripe of darkness far better than any other example I can think of, and I believe the key to making this ending work despite it being not to my taste is that the movie itself seems to understand what I’m feeling. I’ve seen movies take a similar premise and it just felt tasteless and tone oblivious; like I’m the only one in the room that notices how awful everything is. This movie does a great job of letting its story come to an end in a way that feels complete even if it’s not exactly a feel-good finale, and I appreciate it for making the effort.
M Night is certainly not a flawless director, but his best movies are the ones that stick with you after the credits roll and this is certainly an example of that. It’s a bit clunky as we get to the end, and for me, it’s the kind of story that I don’t feel the need to watch again given how bleak it gets, but it still did a phenomenal job of hooking me in and leaving me feeling not as emotionally drained as this type of movie often does. It’s absolutely something I would recommend seeing which is that much more impressive given how much of a soft marshmallow I am, but it just goes to show that you can make an enjoyable movie out of anything if you approach it with enough care. Still, I probably could have used a hug from Bautista at the end of this, but I don’t think 4DX technology has advanced that far yet.