Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint
Run Time: 100 mins
Knock At The Cabin is the latest by M. Night Shyamalan, whose once tarnished career is happily back on an uphill trajectory. A high-concept apocalyptic horror adapted from a novel by Paul G. Tremblay, the film follows a family of three on holiday in a remote cabin. Seven-year-old Wen (Kristen Cui) is catching grasshoppers in the idyllic woodland surrounding the cabin when she is approached by a stranger Leonard (Dave Bautista) who tries to befriend her. It’s unclear whether Leonard is a trustworthy or unsavoury character until three other people holding makeshift weapons enter the picture. Wen and her fathers, the calm Eric (Jonathan Groff) and fair but short-tempered Andrew (Ben Aldridge) are suddenly held hostage by the group. They demand the family sacrifice one of their own to prevent an apocalypse.
Knock At The Cabin is another excellent thriller from Shyamalan – it’s a taut, intense ride while also being thought-provoking. This is not the first time the director’s explored the end of the world and this is a significant step-up from both After Earth and The Happening. Although the premise plays to Shyamalan’s strengths, as you’d expect he doesn’t do things by the book. The film does an excellent job of leaving you guessing the fanatical group’s motive – is the world really about to end? Are they telling the truth or are they suffering from some kind of psychosis?
Shyamalan really makes the most of the mostly single location – the film doesn’t feel stagey and it’s beautifully shot by Jarin Blaschke, collaborating with Lowell A. Meyer. Shyamalan has said that Blaschke is responsible for the interior shots, with Meyer shooting the exteriors. The film has an earthy, biblical aesthetic on the outside and Blaschke prioritises natural light in the cabin. Mainstream newcomer Herdis Stefansdottir’s score is also very effective at creating a sense of foreboding and full of moody portent.
The cast are uniformly excellent. This may well be Dave Bautista’s best work yet, who is fantastic as the hulking yet polite Leonard. Kristen Cui is extraordinary as the seven year old, deftly balancing the line between the sponge-like brain of a child soaking her surroundings while having to face sheer horror. Ben Aldridge also makes quite the impression as Andrew, with a reason behind his seemingly short fuse and Abby Quinn is the highlight of Leonard’s supporting trio.
I wish Knock At The Cabin had a little more ambiguity though. Films such as 10 Cloverfield Lane, for example, take longer to reveal their hand and better develop the ensemble. A slightly longer run time probably wouldn’t have hurt the breakneck pacing of this film to care for the characters more and Shyamalan shouldn’t have felt the need to answer almost every question with a definitive answer.
Despite tackling uncomfortable subject matter, the film is surprisingly mostly bloodless. Although showing isn’t always the best par for the course, arguably the film would have been better for it to burn a horrific image into your mind. Perhaps Shyamalan did this to symbolise the camera as being Wen’s point of view, given her eyes are covered during horrific acts.
Knock At The Cabin is ultimately another success story for Shyamalan as he continues to right the wrongs of his previous career slump. This is a chilling and intense ride from start to finish and although it’s not perfect, Shyamalan’s ambition, the committed performances and the visual execution of the film are very admirable. This is a strong film to start 2023 on.