KNOCK AT THE CABIN
Signs o’ The Times
RELEASED OUT NOW! 15 | 100 minutes
Director M Night Shyamalan
Cast Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff,
Ben Aldridge, Rupert Grint
Would you sacrifice a loved one to save the rest of humanity? That’s the question at the heart of M Night Shyamalan’s latest, a so-so thriller based on Paul Tremblay’s 2018 novel The Cabin At The End Of The World.
Couple Eric and Andrew are vacationing with their daughter Wen in rural Pennsylvania when four strangers walk out of the woods. Led by Leonard (Dave Bautista), they come bearing a terrible message: the world is about to end, and the only way to prevent the apocalypse is for the family to willingly choose to kill one of their own. Eric and Andrew are unconvinced, but when they switch on the TV news their conviction starts to crumble…
Knock At The Cabin is equal parts home invasion flick, existential horror and a retread of Shyamalan’s own Signs. Like that film, it places the viewer amid a small group of people trying to grapple with an extraordinary situation from a distance, the television their only direct link to the outside world. Also like that film, it never quite figures out how to make its mass of intriguing ideas work.
The promising first half sticks closely to the book. Shyamalan can conjure a doomy atmosphere like few other directors working today, and there’s a politeness to these invaders (with the exception of Rupert Grint’s surly ex-con
Redmond, who’s just a real asshole) that’s unsettling. Dave Bautista is an inspired piece of casting, and he brings a lot of pathos to gentle giant Leonard. There’s also genuine chemistry between Jonathan Groff’s Eric, Ben Aldridge’s Andrew and Kristen Cui as Wen. You feel for this family.
As the film progresses, however, Shyamalan steers the story in a new direction. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but all of the choices made here are in the dubious service of making this story feel safer. There’s a core of righteous fury and cosmic terror at the heart of Tremblay’s book that Knock acknowledges, but ultimately abandons in favour of a neater and disappointingly far more palatable conclusion.
It’s also weirdly timid. Old Testament brutality is integral to this tale – it’s not a spoiler to say that the terrifying makeshift weapons the strangers arrive with are put to use before too long – and yet Shyamalan opts to shoot around most of the violence. This approach reaches an irritating peak with a capture/escape sequence where the camera looks away from much of the action.
Despite all of this, Knock At The Cabin is an effective enough B-movie, nowhere near the director’s best work (Unbreakable, obviously), but some leagues better than his worst. It’s just that with such thought-provoking and provocative source material to build on, we couldn’t help but hope for more.
Nikki Amuka-bird appears in both this film and Shyamalan’s Old; there’s a fan theory that her two characters are sisters.
Never quite figures out how to make its mass of ideas work