Review of Knock at the Cabin
M. Night Shyamalan has remained one of the most talked about horror/thriller directors since his rise to fame in 1999 with The Sixth Sense.
Since then he’s had other commercial and critical hits such as Signs, Unbreakable, and Split. He’s also known for not so memorable and even laughably bad films such as The Happening, The Last Airbender, and Lady in the Water.
M. Night’s latest film Knock at the Cabin looked promising enough in trailers with stunning visuals, a compelling cast, and a high-stakes premise. Unfortunately, there’s much more working against the film than for it, leading to another empty thriller from the Philadelphia director.
Knock at the Cabin follows couple Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and their young daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) vacationing at a remote cabin. A serene trip is interrupted by a group of strangers led by the firm but gentle Leonard (Dave Bautista) presenting the family with a horrible choice.
Leonard and his colleagues Sabrina (Nikki-Amuka Bird), Adrienne (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint) inform the family that they’ve all received psychic visions forecasting the apocalypse and that the three must choose one of their family members to sacrifice in order to prevent it.
Andrew believes that because of the couple’s sexuality, they’ve been targeted and are now subject to this sick game while Eric slowly starts to trust their captors leading to a chaotic yet predictable ending with a shallow attempt at an emotional conclusion.
The film certainly has many interesting thematic elements going for it and by choosing a gay couple and their adopted daughter to make this choice, the film delivers some thoughtful commentary on the mindset that queer families are a threat to conventional, nuclear families-and in this case, the world.
Many flashbacks in the film illustrate the obstacles and bigotry Andrew and Eric have had to overcome with their unwavering love for each other remaining a consistent and comforting factor in a world that’s against their very existence. Their adoption of Wen is a particularly heartwarming scene.
In between these few tender scenes, the audience is plopped back into the cabin den where we learn little to nothing about these strangers who have trapped them besides their shared visions and a few details about their lives.
The film seems to want you to side with Andrew and believe that this group of people are zealous homophobes that have subjected this loving couple to a horrifying, twisted situation in hopes of turning them against each other while simultaneously wanting you to trust Bautista and his colleagues because this is an M. Night Shyamalan movie.
Certain scenes are designed to contain so much suspense despite indicators that reveal exactly what’s going to take place over the course of the scene. The antithesis to other famous works of Shyamalan, Knock at the Cabin pretty much shows and tells you exactly what to expect which is extremely underwhelming.
Perhaps the film’s most glaring inhibitor of success is its runtime. At only an hour and 40 minutes, the film wastes a large majority of its potential on slow-paced action scenes and a low emphasis on character development.
When the strangers attack, Eric ends up with a concussion which Sabrina attends to because of her nursing abilities. The scene between her and Eric is compressed into a few pleasantries instead of showing what these characters have in common, showing them getting to know each other, and maybe even developing an understanding of one another despite their goals counteracting each other.
This could be read as part of the theme of fear and not taking time to listen or understand each other leads to cataclysmic consequences and there are plenty of real-world allusions and metaphors-mostly present in the bittersweet ending.
By limiting the character’s interactions with each other to just focus on the “make a choice” narrative, the writers are actually depriving their theme of any constitutional effect and applicability.
While movies are not meant to be moral compasses, many of them contain messages that help viewers digest the prospects of their daily lives and with our world becoming scarier and more confusing, it’s important that those times are not only reflected in our films but handled with delicacy.
Not to say that the messages of films should be blatantly laid out for you or clearly baiting you to subscribe to one proposed analysis especially because this film could be interpreted in a myriad of ways, but a lack of character development and such a short runtime lessens connectivity between your characters as well as your audience.
Knock at the Cabin asks viewers a simple dramatic question- would you sacrifice your family for the good of humanity? Instead of thoroughly exploring this question through dialogue and character driven action, the film relies too heavily on suspense and cinematic visuals, sidelining what could’ve been the next great M. Night story.