CINEMA REVIEW: KNOCK AT THE CABIN (2023)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay by: M. Night Shyamalan, Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman
Based on The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay
Produced by: M. Night Shyamalan, Marc Bienstock, Ashwin Rajan
Main cast: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint etc.
Cinematography: Jarin Blaschke, Lowell A. Meyer
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
M. Night Shyamalan is arguably one of the most critically divisive directors working today. Not because his films are particularly controversial, but mainly because he is a risk-taker that tests the boundaries of genre expectations. He has so many different ideas and concepts that quite often his movies have back-fired spectacularly, however, when he gets it right his genre films are highly entertaining and compelling. Superior genre films such as: The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002), and The Village (2004), were full of invention, suspense and wicked twists. Many people felt The Village stretched the limits of suspending disbelief, but it was a masterpiece compared to his filmic failures like: The Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008) and The Last Airbender (2010).
I missed seeing the apparent disaster that was After Earth (2013), yet it was opined that Shyamalan returned to some essence of form with the horror film The Visit (2015). However, I still felt there were some dodgy creative decisions in that, such as the story-filler-white-middle-class-rapping kid in amidst a creepy thriller. Yet, with Split (2016), Shyamalan was back to his best, weaving an exploitational B-movie kidnap-plot with a searing psycho-performance from James McAvoy. The ending, which found Anya Taylor-Joy’s ultra resilient Casey fighting back against McAvoy’s twenty-plus split-personality maniac, then brilliantly linked the film to Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (2000). Glass (2019), was a solid finale to the unlikely trilogy and his adaptation of the novel, Sandcastle, titled Old (2021), received mixed reviews. However, despite the over-cooked ending, I thought it was a brilliant Twilight Zone infused ensemble suspense twister.
Shyamalan’s latest cinema offering, Knock at the Cabin (2023) is another literary adaptation and contains a simple yet compelling premise. As same-sex couple, Eric and Andrew, plus their adopted daughter, Wen, are enjoying a relaxing getaway in a peaceful and bucolic wood, four strangers carrying home made medieval-type weapons arrive and give them a horrific choice. If they do not sacrifice and kill one of their family, the end of the world will begin. This apocalyptic game of “would you rather” immediately raises the drama and stakes to a critical point, after which events become darker and tense. I was immediately drawn in as I really enjoy narratives where the characters have unenviable choices to make. What would I do in that situation?
As the family are tied up and threatened, the four strangers introduce themselves and how they came to the cabin. The tension increases as the world events seem to back up what the seemingly crazy people are saying. Interspersed with the scenes in the cabin are some moving flashbacks which establish the humanity and relationships of the victims. This creates empathy and texture to the middle-class every-couple family unit. They are not action stars or superheroes, but are us, the audience, facing a hard-to-stomach decision. Of course, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is asked by Knock at the Cabin (2023). However, I was certainly gripped by the narrative throughout.
M. Night Shyamalan’s films often contain social commentary or reference to larger external forces impacting the characters. Here my interpretation was that, the book it is adapted from and the script, are dealing with themes relating to environmental allegory. If we, as a species, are all prepared to make a sacrifice we can ultimately save the world from disaster. Yet, Shyamalan succeeds here where The Happening (2008) failed because the message is more subtle, without bludgeoning us over the head with a massive weapon. Talking of which Dave Bautista gives a revelatory performance as the gentle giant, Leonard, a man cursed to carry out the portentous visions which haunt him and his group of deadly seers. His performance, some fascinating frame and shot choices, and Shyamalan’s ability to create psychological tension without resorting to shock tactics are all great reasons to answer the door to this apocalyptic thriller.