'Knock at the Cabin' review: Apocalyptic thriller is Shyamalan's best film in years
Courtesy of Universal
M. Night Shyamalan is returning to his roots in the tense chamber piece “Knock at the Cabin,” where the divisive filmmaker adapts Paul Tremblay’s novel “The Cabin at the End of the World” into a creepy thriller where characters face insurmountable odds and audiences must decipher the implications (or plausibility) of what’s sitting in front of them. It results in Shyamalan’s most effective chiller since 2002’s “Signs,” offering literal and stark allegories on the state of the world without the signature twist that’s become synonymous with the filmmaker’s body of work.
Like “Signs” and “The Sixth Sense” before it, “Knock at the Cabin” thrives on its human scale approach to a massive supernatural phenomena. Except there's no major explosions, split personalities, or beaches that’ll make you grow old, rather, the biblical allegories and dialogue forces a different type of conversation. What made “Signs” spooky was the fear of the unknown, and those elements are prevalent throughout “Knock at the Cabin” wherein a random group of individuals beg an innocent family to make an impossible, selfless decision.
The movie wastes no time setting up the plot, beginning with spunky seven-year-old Wen (Kristen Cui) and her two dads, Eric and Andrew (Jonathan Gross and Ben Aldridge) relaxing at a remote cabin when four strangers show up with an ominous warning. The leader of the group: Leonard (a hulking and believable Dave Bautista) outlines the road ahead, explaining the three must choose one member of their family to die or else the entire fate of humanity will be decimated. Easy enough, right?
Any rational person would think these people are insane nor believe such a bonkers statement, but the quartet try convincing the family by showcasing concrete evidence in the form of horrible tragedies (or, as they call them, plagues) that appear to be unleashed whenever Eric and Andrew fail to make the choice. Shyamalan, who co-wrote the screenplay with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, paints a well-rounded picture that allows audiences to piece together the legitimacy of these claims. And considering their previous run-in with homophobia, Eric and Andrew peg the squad for cultish, doomsday preppers tasked with ridding the world of gay men. Who could blame them?
But “Knock at the Cabin” is bigger than these two, and the movie intermittently flashes back to precious life memories (adopting Wen, meeting the parents etc.) in an attempt to humanize the characters, even as the intruders plead for their lives. It’s a different type of home invasion thriller: one which balloons towards some unexpected (and contemplative) places, plus running a crisp 100-minutes makes sure it never panders on longer than it needs to, though I’d imagine, considering it is Shyamalan, some might be expecting a more shocking climatic revelation, however, you’d be surprised to know, it’s fairly straightforward and better because of it.
Rounding out the cast and bringing serious emotional levity are Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn and Rupert Grint who power the movie’s overall sense of unease. They claim to be normal, everyday people who don’t have a single homophobic bone in their body, yet their motives and past brings into question serious doubts and hints at the alternative. There’s even a coincidental discovery that adds fuel to the ongoing debate midway through the movie, just as you thought it was all figured out.
Yet, that’s how Shyamalan wants this movie to be experienced: in a deeply reflective state while the viewer unravels the various themes presented as the credits roll. The director pulls out all the stylized filmmaking tricks too: utilizing wide angles and uncomfortable close-ups while Herdís Stefánsdóttir’s haunting scores floores underneath the action, marking a return to form after a string of major flops (“The Last Airbender,” “Lady in the Water;” and “After Earth”) that all but derailed his career. “Knock at the Cabin” is a throwback to his successful and commercial films: a scary, economic, and meditative dissection on the fate of humanity and the lengths those are willing to go in order to protect it.
KNOCK AT THE CABIN is now playing in theaters.