The Movie Waffler New to VOD - KNOCK AT THE CABIN | The Movie Waffler


A family receives a visit from four strangers with a disturbing request.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint

Knock at the Cabin poster

When he burst onto the scene in the late 1990s with The Sixth Sense (albeit not his first film, but who remembers Praying with Anger and Wide Awake?), writer/director M. Night Shyamalan was compared to the likes of Steven Spielberg and Rod Serling. In the decades since, a more apt comparison might be Stephen King, for while the director's best films keep you involved to a point, they've tended to collapse in their final acts.

That's almost the case once again with Knock at the Cabin, a project that unusually didn't originate from Shyamalan's own imagination, but rather is a reworking of a script by Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, which itself was based on the novel 'The Cabin at the End of the World' by Paul G. Tremblay. But this is very much a Shyamalan project, showcasing the strongest and weakest aspects of the filmmaker's talents.

Knock at the Cabin review

It opens with Shyamalan at his best, with a tense sequence in which a young girl, Wen (Kristen Cui, excellent), is approached by a mountainous stranger in the woods near the cabin where she's holidaying with her adoptive parents, same-sex couple Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge). The stranger, who introduces himself as Leonard (Dave Bautista, giving the best performance by a wrestler since Roddy Piper in They Live), speaks very softly and goes out of his way to come off as non-threatening to the child, but this only makes him all the more creepy. When three other strangers – Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Redmond (Rupert Grint) – appear wielding dangerous looking homemade weapons, Wen flees back to her dads and warns them that trouble is coming.

When Eric and Andrew refuse to let the strangers in, they find their cabin under siege, ending in Leonard and his chums breaking in and tying up the family. With the exception of the aggressive Redmond, the strangers are apologetic for their actions, insisting that they wish they didn't have to behave in such a way. Leonard explains that they're on a mission, and that Eric, Andrew and Wen have been chosen for a special cause. A world-ending apocalypse is coming, and it can only be averted by the family choosing one of their own to be sacrificed.

Knock at the Cabin review

It's a knockout premise, and for much of the run time Shyamalan rings every last drop of tension and intrigue from the striking scenario. Whether the claims of Leonard and co. are real or not is left clouded for roughly the film's first half. What's clear is that they certainly believe in the mission they're on, regardless of whether they happen to be deluded or not.

This theme of belief also plays into the dynamic between Eric and Andrew. We're given hints that Eric was once religious but has kept his faith concealed since falling for the aggressively atheistic Andrew. This causes a rift in the pair as Eric starts to question whether Leonard's claims may be real, something Andrew simply isn't willing to consider, no matter how much evidence is presented to support the case.

That evidence comes in the form of apocalyptic news reports, the sort of thing Shyamalan does very well and which remind us of that standout moment in Signs where we're shown a news report of an alien turning up at a children's party.

Knock at the Cabin review

What's most interesting about Knock at the Cabin is how it forces us to question who the real villain is here, if something as black and white as a villain even exists in this scenario. Kudos to Shyamalan for daring to make a gay character unlikeable in the form of the abrasive Andrew. While it's never mentioned, we can't help but wonder if Eric is the victim of a psychologically abusive relationship, so forceful is Andrew, though via a flashback we're given a reason for Andrew's rage. Too many mainstream movies tend to treat gay men patronisingly, as though they're some sort of angelic beings and not simply humans with all the same flaws and weaknesses as everyone else. Shyamalan sets his stall out early on in this regard when Wen mentions how she mistrusts the people who keep telling her how great it is that she has two dads.

Yet while we're kept gripped by the potentially looming apocalypse and the smaller human drama between Eric and Andrew, the film runs out of ideas in its final stretch, and anyone expecting one of Shyamalan's trademark twists will be sorely disappointed as the film simply peters out to its most obvious conclusion. The strange thing is, through recurring flashbacks Shyamalan appears to be building to one of his twists. When this fails to materialise we're left to wonder what was the point of the flashbacks? You might surmise that they were left over from an earlier draft and Shyamalan stuck with them to pad out the film's running time. The filmmaker changed the ending of the original novel, which ironically reads like more of a traditional Shyamalan ending than the one we get here. It's not a bad ending per se, just an underwhelming one (think Spielberg's War of the Worlds), and while it doesn't retroactively ruin the tense 70 minutes or so that lead up to it, it will likely affect the film's rewatchability.

Knock at the Cabin
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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