Knock at the Cabin is arguably Shyamalan’s best film in many years.
Published on February 10, 2023
Rating 3.5 /5
Director M. Night Shyamalan has fallen into predictability over the years for his penchant for twists. Every film has always come with “that moment” where the big reveal is made about what’s really going on in his tales of terror and suspense. The audience has become so conditioned to this format, even with Shyamalan's more experimental films like The Visit and Glass. So the first question one may be asking in Shyamalan's Knock at the Cabin is “What’s the twist?” Surprisingly, there isn’t one here (well, not really)!
Based on the novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay, this film makes the wise call to constantly keep the audience guessing amid the terror. The premise centers around a gay couple, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), on vacation with their adopted daughter Wen. While staying at a cabin in the woods, the family is soon visited by four strangers (Dave Bautista, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint) wielding weapons. The strangers try to approach with the calmness and sincerity they need to enter the cabin. They eventually break into the cabin and tie up the family while still trying to stress that they’re not the bad guys there.
It is soon revealed that the strangers have experienced a vision of the coming apocalypse. According to their rules, the apocalypse will only be averted if the family decides to kill one of themselves. If they do so, humanity will be saved. If they don’t, the world will crumble, but the family will be fine. Andrew doesn’t buy this logic, but Eric, having a head wound from the intrusion, is starting to think they might be telling the truth. While the tied-up family refuses to participate, the stranger starts killing themselves off, each death bringing a new apocalyptic event on the news. Doubt lingers about whether or not the world is ending and whether or not the strangers are a cult hate group manipulating the gay couple into death.
The film never gives a definitive answer to the question of who is right in this scenario. Shyamalan is smart enough to let that ambiguity brew while staging great moments of violence and suspense. Interestingly, the strangers have convinced themselves that they must not kill the family as that will ruin their plans but will still wound if they feel they’re not being taken seriously. While there might be a desire to simply run out the clock and let the strangers kill themselves, there’s still a lingering sense of doubt about the truth. This leads to some incredibly intense moments, primarily when the strangers perform their ceremonial blood sacrifices in the name of judging humanity.
The performances are all top-notch for this picture. Groff and Aldridge have some remarkable range for being conflicted and aggressive captors, trying to make sense of a world they’ve grown bitter with. Bautista is interesting as the most towering figure, but also a character who tries to stress his desperation with a certain sincerity and peace. It makes the violent nature of Grint and Akuma-Bird far more intimidating, considering how they lack his patience. Shyamalan also shoots this film with plenty of clever techniques, some very evocative of 1990s thrillers. Scenes of weapons coming down on bodies and uncomfortably close shots maintain the thrilling nature well.
Knock at the Cabin is arguably Shyamalan’s best film in many years. It’s not exactly a knockout, with all things considered. There’s mixed messaging in the ultimate resolve where even the sharp dialogue doesn’t suffice as much as one would expect. There’s also a bit of a rushed nature to keeping this film under two hours it feels like we don’t spend as much time with the characters. All that being said, this is a film that highlights what Shyamalan does best and doesn’t ruin the tone with a left-field twist.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.