No director is more unpredictably divisive than the mind of M. Night Shyamalan. Just looking at his career, sometimes we will all go into one of his movies with considerable skepticism, but there’s also a sense of anticipation for what he will bring to the table with the genre he takes on. Who knows what line his latest Knock at the Cabin would ride in the months leading up? This past decade alone has me not knowing what he’ll do next. None of the surprises that made him an established name in Hollywood can rise to the top with something like Split to down with less than incredible returns after some of us were disappointed with his last two films, Glass and Old. He’s always been a director you don’t know if we can trust him with our entertainment. Except, he can prove us wrong in a good way.
What’s the Story: Based on Paul Tremblay’s best-selling 2018 novel The Cabin at the End of the World, seven-year-old Wen (Kristen Cui) and her adoptive parents, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), take a vacation at their quite remote cabin in the rural Pennsylvania woods. While capturing grasshoppers, a mysterious man named Leonard (Dave Bautista) approaches her, striking up a friendly conversation. Suddenly, Leonard and three other members—Redmond (Rupert Grint), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and Adrian (Abby Quin)—force their way into their home with makeshift weapons, tying them up and holding them hostage. Despite their intentions with this home invasion, they aren’t there to harm them, but they explain they’re on a mission: They must choose one of them to sacrifice themselves to prevent an upcoming apocalypse.
Just the simple concept attached to this adaptation and the cast alone made for the growing intrigue of what’s coming with this film. The first trailer was all I needed to watch, sneakily avoiding the second one since I felt it would have spoilers and I was right after recently caught it. Would I say it’s better than his earlier work? Probably not, but I enjoyed Knock at the Cabin overall for what it was going for.
Unique as he can sometimes be, one of Shyamalan’s biggest strengths fans can notice is that he can be more comfortable taking on smaller stories that don’t have to rely heavily on a humongous budget or taking on a story needing to be taken seriously and not for laughs. Most of the well-paced 100-minute runtime has the characters confined inside this claustrophobic cabin, nearly keeping the suspense intact without becoming complicated. Above all, this showcases his strongest directing not just in working with Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer’s cinematography, but he still carries through a perfect sense of tension everybody must be going through, and it doesn’t waste any time to get the ball going quicker than I thought when knowing the basics to move forward with the straightforward narrative.
And this brings up a difficult question to lie upon us within this dilemma: Will we sacrifice one of our own to save billions of people on this planet? One must die, and suicide is not an option to save the world. So they’re trying to prove to the three they aren’t insane and providing them with some background about themselves of why this matters. We’re siding with the family to ask if these four are part of a crazy cult with too much on their mind or if they’re serious about preventing the end of the world. Even Leonard and his crew don’t want to be in this predicament, but they have no choice, after all having the same vision that led them here. They don’t want to make these choices. No joke, I’ve always thought of the chances that anybody would do something out of the ordinary, causing a trigger event worldwide. By the end, all of us will question if we’re willing to do the same possibly. This is more of an unexpected character-driven piece that never had me wanting to look at my phone for the time. Everybody is kept in this self-contained space to devise a solution to this problem that will have us either believing in what they’re saying or thinking it’s total BS. Shyamalan, behind the camera, does some of his best work in taking advantage of this setting that makes it unsettling, sitting there not knowing what’s coming next.
After watching him in this, Dave Bautista might as well prove to everyone he’s one of the best wrestlers turned actors in the last decade, with Leonard being his best performance. When you see him in Blade Runner 2049, Army of the Dead, and now this, it shows he has such a great range he puts in his roles where he begins with a gentle persona that turns into an intimidating presence who’s running out of time. He just pulled this off with no notes given. Besides him, Groff and Aldridge are the film’s heart and who we dare to care for the most, and their chemistry is undoubtedly believable when in this frightening situation. I’ve always been a fan of Groff, not just because he’s a very talented singer, but he’s been an excellent actor, where I really want to see more live-action roles from him. And if you’ve seen Aldridge previously in the underrated dramedy Spoiler Alert, then you also know he’ll have a prominent future in Hollywood. Alridge’s Andrew is the aggressive protector of the two, while Eric doesn’t know what to be believed about all of this. We even get to know them as a couple more through these flashbacks, which at first confused me why they were included, breaking the flow of the pacing a bit. But that might’ve been part of the book or driven the point of where they’re coming from. And what an impressive film debut by Kristen Cui, showing Shyamalan has a way of directing child actors correctly.
Are there moments where the dialogue from the script, co-written by Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, comes across as unrealistic from time to time? Sure, but that’s what always to expect when Shyamalan’s name is part of the script. One line, in particular, was genuinely spoon-feeding to the audience. What will probably not be on everyone’s level is the ending. That’s not to say it involves the typical twist most would’ve seen coming a mile away, and they executed it poorly. But having not read the book, my friend who saw it with me did prior, and I asked him if there were any significant changes from book to screen and he mentioned the ending is vastly different compared to both. Just hearing the description of what happened makes sense for Shyamalan and his team to go in another direction. Still, I am trying to decide if this was a good or bad ending. Side note: I think somebody behind us was asleep since I heard snoring in the first ten to fifteen minutes. That was pretty distracting.
Overall, Knock at the Cabin is fortunate to be included among M. Night Shyamalan’s best movies. For those seeking a more tense experience, not everything leads to a flawless thriller. However, its premise and outstanding performances effectively capture a considerable bit of suspense, and I was happy to leave one of his movies having a good time and not feeling let down for once.
Knock at the Cabin is now playing in theaters nationwide| Runtime: 100 Minutes| Rated R for Violence and Language| Studio: Universal Pictures.
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