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Knock at the Cabin Review

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Knock at the Cabin will be released in theaters on Feb. 3, 2023.


M. Night Shyamalan's Knock at the Cabin feels out of alignment with the filmmaker's catalog of twist-heavy, suspense-latent thrillers. Maybe that's because this time Shyamalan has collaborated with two co-writers – Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman – while adapting Paul Tremblay's devastating novel, The Cabin at the End of the World. It's an apocalypse film that doesn't feel all that apocalyptic – an overall one-note and sometimes muted doomsday scenario. Shyamalan's chamber-locked standoff between a cult-like group and a fearful family is occasionally effective but rarely affecting, which doesn't match the bleak tragedy at the heart of Tremblay's story.

Everyone is playing their individual parts well enough as a whole, between same-sex parents Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), their sweetheart of an adopted daughter Wen (Kristen Cui), and devout captors led by Leonard (Dave Bautista). The standoff takes place in a rental cabin where Eric and Andrew have whisked Wen for some vacation cheerfulness, only to be interrupted by Leonard's crew and informed they have a choice: choose one family member to die, and in doing so save the world.

Bautista ends up being the standout as this hulking conversationalist busting out of his pedestrian button-down shirt, capable of destructive violence and yet softly rationalizing through dialogue with the charismatic command of a cult leader. The stalemate tension hinges on Eric and Andrew's disbelief in divine visions, along with Shyamalan's ability to maintain suspense over Leonard's insistence that our world will burn if no sacrifice is chosen – but only Bautista’s performance is innocent despite both mentioned elements being guilty of lackluster results.

Bautista ends up being the standout as this hulking conversationalist busting out of his pedestrian button-down shirt.


The even temperament of Knock at the Cabin is shocking, given how Shyamalan unleashes brutal heartbreak, remorseless bigotry, plague smiting, and other radically intense experiences. Groff and Aldridge barter for their lives and relationship bliss, yet their romantic chemistry burns no higher than a matchstick's flame. Leonard’s sidekick invaders, including Rupert Grint's Bostonian ex-con Redmond and Nikki Amuka-Bird's apologetic nurse Sabrina, never establish enough backstory to give weight to their sob stories when trying to sway the restrained couple towards a decision. Even when Knock at the Cabin deals with complex emotional predicaments and escalates them on-screen, they tend to play shallow and hollow. Shyamalan's proven himself a fearlessly risk-taking storyteller throughout his career, yet this time he churns through fated motions that should present as more momentous.

Knock at the Cabin is the plain white bread of home invasion thrillers, structurally dependable while lacking flavor. There's never any instance where the horrors of facing four weapon-wielding strangers draw even an ounce of fear, even with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse symbolism made evident by overt religious overtones – partly because that's not Leonard's intention (or so he states). Eric and Andrew's flashbacks, where their queerness is rejected by everyone from loved ones to anonymous bar patrons, don't feel as authentically upsetting cut between the couple's tied-tight imprisonment because there’s a tendency to rush these otherwise important character moments. Leonard, Redmond, Sabrina, and nurturing line cook Ardiane (Abby Quinn) state their cases as proponents of humankind's survival, but their words hit no harder than down pillows. There's an intriguing concept at stake – sacrifice personal happiness in order to save a world full of monsters – yet Knock at the Cabin doesn't convincingly or compellingly sell its chosen finale.

There's an intriguing concept at stake, yet Knock at the Cabin doesn't convincingly or compellingly sell its chosen finale.


There are other competencies outside Bautista's breaking of typecast chains that shouldn't go unnoticed. Child performances aren't always reliable, but Cui is a darling addition to scenes because she brings out Bautista's warm compassion or emboldens Groff and Aldridge as partners. Cinematographers Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer perceptively use their cameras to emphasize the cabin's isolation, sustaining dramatic pauses as the frame looms steady, heightening uneasiness while we eagerly wait for some conflict to erupt. Shyamalan is no stranger to psychological mind games and dangerous dilemmas, which allows scenes to move smoothly on a functional level from the very minute Bautista's harbinger appears in the woods, but little is built upon that. This cabin's got solid bones, yet is disappointingly barren on the inside.

Knock at the Cabin Stills

Verdict

Knock at the Cabin fails to knock the classic cabin in the woods horror methods out of the park. M. Night Shyamalan abides by unfittingly formulaic standards and produces a tonal flatliner despite an arsenal of emotionally targeted beatdowns and prophecy-spouting lambs led to slaughter in the name of blind faith. There’s nothing uniquely surprising or exceptionally rousing, which is a shame given the unfathomably dreadful predicament and an interesting turn of a performance from Dave Bautista. It’s a film without sensation that feels like it’s pulling its punches across the board – development is stunted, ideas lack passion, and the camera avoids visible violence – before the ending strolls off into the sunset with barely any goodbye. Thematic messages tethered to Old Testament interpretations are lost when the story wraps due to increasingly stale predictability, as Knock at the Cabin exposes a Shyamalan script with surprisingly little to say.

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