A Humbled Director Delivers a Knock at the Cabin

Knock at the Cabin is a 2023 thriller from M Night Shyamalan and starring Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, and Kristen Cui.  In it, a family vacation is interrupted by a random group of strangers who takes the family hostage and tells them that their family is the key to prevent a coming apocalypse that will destroy all life on earth except for them.  The only way to prevent this apocalypse is for the family to select one of their own to sacrifice.  This movie asks the question:  If you had a choose between your family and the world, what would you choose?  That’s tough because, honestly, I’m not very fond of either. 

What can I say?  Knock at the Cabin is not as good as some of M Night’s Shamalyan’s offerings, but on the other hand, it’s not as bad as M Night Shamalyan’s offerings.   If there’s an average of M. Night Shamalyan movies, this would be decidedly above that average by quite a bit.  Honestly, this is probably M Night’s best movie in years and I know that’s not saying a whole lot given what he’s inflicted on us, but it was better than The Visit and I enjoyed The Visit and it was better than Glass and… I enjoyed The Visit.

Knock at the Cabin is a film that drowns you and the characters in doubt.  Personally, uncertainty is something that gives me anxiety and so, it definitely puts the ‘thrill’ in the thriller genre as far as this movie goes.

Characters in this film spend their time swinging back and forth like an unsure metronome.  At one point, they believe and the next, they have doubts and it’s not just the family I’m talking about, it’s Dave Bautista and his cultish crew.  One minute they believe they’re on a divine mission to save the world, the next minute, they’re questioning their sanity or wondering if they’ve been unknowingly manipulated into carrying out a hateful agenda.  It’s good stuff.  It’s dramatic stuff.  I loves it.

Of course, you also have your stalwarts.  The ones who believe unquestionably and the ones who refuse to believe anything.  Everyone here is on a belief spectrum and it brings them not only into conflict with their adversaries, but also in conflict with each other as that metronome of uncertainty ticks back and forth. 

It doesn’t hurt that Knock at the Cabin has some absolutely incredible performances in it.   Dave Bautista, for example, continues to prove that he should be completely and without question taken seriously as an actor.  I can also see why he’s become frustrated with his role of Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy since he’s been relegated to comic relief.  This guy has some serious acting chops on him and, if this movie doesn’t convince you of that, check out his work in Blade Runner 2049 or anything else in his resume.  Dave Bautista is fantastic in this movie.  A paradox of calmness and threat.  A contradiction of nurturing and danger.   Physically intimidating and yet gentle.  Soft spoken, and yet a source of menace.  There are thousands of actors who would have fumbled this ball in a moment, but Bautista completely sports analogied it and we need to stop speaking of him in the same breath as The Rock because they’re not in the same league.  Not at all.

Dave Bautista isn’t the only heavy hitter in this movie.  Truthfully, there’s not a single dramatic weak leg in this entire film.   Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge both sell the peril and concern that they have for each other and their daughter and, masterfully I might add, M Night doesn’t load us down with a lot of exposition about this couple, but rather chooses to reveal a little bit at a time through well timed and very short flashbacks to happier times.  These were scenes that the movie could have skipped and lost almost nothing narratively, but they serve to really get us attached to this family and show us the affection they feel for each other outside of a crisis situation when emotions are high and everyone is screaming.  Seeing a bad dinner with the family, the first moment that they met their adopted daughter, or even the simple drive to the cabin in which the movie takes place, endears them to us.  It raises the stakes and, best of all, none of the flashbacks wear out their welcome.  They’re short and sweet, probably all under three minutes or less.   I’m happy I can say this about an M. Night movie again, but it’s masterful directing.

I also have to point out an absolutely stellar performance from Rupert Grint who I was so happy to see again on the big screen.  Granted, I’m sure he’s done other things since Harry Potter, but I haven’t seen them, so I’m happy to see him regardless.  His turn in this movie is short, but his performance is incredible and heart-breaking and hard to watch.  It is a highlight of this movie.

Finally, I’m not sure what dark force that M. Night partnered with in order to find the best child actors possible, but little Kristen Cui is not only the cutest little girl in the entire world but she holds her own with these adult actors giving their all.  She performs so effortlessly that you can’t help but smile.  All I can say is, bravo, little one.  Bravo.

Knock at the Cabin is a very efficient movie.  It only has one location, doesn’t waste a lot of time before getting the plot going, and doesn’t dally on trivialities.  As a matter of fact, this movie is fairly uncomplicated and only gets annoying near the end when it gets a little too explainery and one of the characters decides to start explaining the archetypes that the members of the cult filled.  I would have also liked an ending with more uncertainty as the ending is decidedly certain and, thus, feels out of place. 

I have never met M. Night Shamalyan.  On the whole, I enjoy… most of his films, but I get the sense that, for a while, he started to believe the narrative that had been constructed around him:  That he was the new Alfred Hitchcock.  Come on:  This man wrote a movie about water nymphs and cast himself as the most influential writer in history.  So, with a head full of hubris, he made some of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.  Even today I don’t think I will ever forgive him for The Last Airbender.  His career became so much of a joke that even Robot Chicken was making fun of him.

I get a sense now that we’re seen M. Night humbled and matured now.  As a result, his later movies are more measured, more thought out, and with a ton less ego.  I like this M Night.  I like this movie.  I hope that this M. Night sticks around and continues to make quality films so that the days of The Happening and After Earth become nothing more than a footnote.  I take no pleasure in the failures of a filmmaker because, as a film lover, those failures are my failures.  I wish nothing but success on everyone who makes movies.  Yes, even the man who ruined The Last Airbender.  May that success continue and may your best days be ahead.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: