‘Knock At The Cabin’ Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s Tense Apocalyptic Thriller With A Twist
It has been noted that new-age master of suspense wannabe M. Night Shyamalan has basically gone downhill since his heady beginnings with the Oscar-nominated classic The Sixth Sense, then pretty good follow-ups like Signs and Unbreakable. Even detours in split-personality hits like Split and Glass — the latter successful enough to let Universal trust him with small enough budgets to take a few more swings — or the intriguing Twilight Zone-ish film Old, which unfortunately wore out its welcome after a promising start, bolster that notion.
Movies like Lady in the Water, The Visit, The Last Airbender, The Happening, The Village, and After Earth are better left forgotten.
Now we have Knock at the Cabin, a home-invasion thriller that mixes its premise with a pretty far-fetched, Biblical apocalyptic plot line that ratchets up the tension but could use a little more credibility.
As in every Shyamalan picture, you expect some sort of twist, but with this movie Shyamalan plays with those expectations. He knows how to direct this stuff, but the story, based on the 2018 Paul Tremblay novel and adapted by Shyamalan, Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, is all style and little substance.
It begins with a Chinese-American girl named Wen (the lovely Kristen Cui) catching grasshoppers. She is interrupted by the imposing Leonard (Dave Bautista), who befriends her and eventually explains he fears what he has to do later that day but must talk to her parents, who happen to be two fathers who adopted her from a Chinese orphanage while hiding the fact about their same-sex marriage.
Before she can finish telling her dads, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), about this encounter, Leonard and three associates come knocking at the remote cabin where conveniently there is no WiFi or cell reception. It intensifies, and they break into the place, leading to a fierce fight before tying up the dads, as a scared Wen watches. This foursome, however, isn’t like Charlie Manson’s gang, or even the group from Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (the 1997 Austrian film he also remade 10 years later in a terrifying English-language version).
They, in fact, explain they have each been “chosen” after individually seeing visions of the end of the world that they say can only be stopped by the trio whose vacation cabin they have just invaded. Their goal? To get them to sacrifice one of themselves before it is too late, an act of selflessness that would, they claim, save humanity. The catch is with the clock ticking, and their dogged refusal, one of the quarter of invaders must die at select intervals until they change their minds.
A bland TV news program anchor calmly describes various disasters happening at these points including a tsunami, massive earthquakes, and, eventually, hundreds of planes falling from the skies. Is this all an elaborate put-on, some crazy conspiracy theory they are acting on? Have they really been chosen as the ones to save the world? Are they really homophobic, and is this an act against this family specifically? You can ponder all of that, but as we get to know Eric and Andrew in brief flashbacks, we don’t get a whole lot of clues as to why they have wound up in this predicament, one they will take drastic measures to escape.
Groff and Eldridge, both out in real life, are effective with what they are handed. But it is Bautista who makes the biggest impression, zeroing in on a man who is determined to carry through with this mission from beyond, or somewhere in his head. He plays it cool even if he and his group of “four horsemen” might be right-wing extremists out of a MAGA nightmare, for all we know. They are a strange bunch of believers indeed, capably played by Nikki Amuka-Bird as a nurse, Abby Quinn as a cook, and no less than Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint as a high-maintenance gas company worker.
Knock at the Cabin is never boring, but also never remotely close to what Shyamalan had shown us what he could once do, a talented filmmaker still looking for a genuine comeback to glory.
Universal releases it Friday.