M. Night Shyamalan will forever be held to the standards of his breakthrough hit “The Sixth Sense” (and its two popular follow ups, “Unbreakable” and “Signs”). While his latest thriller, “Knock at the Cabin” is not as strong as those early works, it is the director’s best film in a long time.
Shyamalan’s output since the massive success of 2002’s “Signs” has been spotty; his bumpy ride of good and bad films making him an unfair target of ridicule for the fanboy culture and internet trolls.
“Knock at the Cabin” is no joke. While far from perfect, this is a tight and suspenseful picture that should delight audiences who appreciate a well-crafted thriller.
A same sex married couple Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and their young daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui) go to their cabin in the woods for a peaceful getaway.
Immediately, they are visited by four strangers brought together by one terrifying purpose, to assure the coming apocalypse will be stopped. To do this, Eric, Andrew, and Wen must sacrifice one of their own.
The catch is that the four strangers cannot choose, nor can they kill a member of the family. It is Eric and Andrew who must make the macabre decision. They are not allowed to kill themselves, and if they refuse to make a choice, a plague will be unleashed on humanity.
This group is not villainous, nor do they revel in their apocalyptic duty.
The intruders are well cast. As their voice of almost unnatural calm, Leonard, Dave Bautista proves he is a deeper actor than his previous films have let on. His performance is peaceful and kind, even though he is there to endure a human sacrifice. It is a reflective role that will (hopefully) bring the actor stronger character parts in future endeavors. Bautista is quite moving.
Redmon (Rupert Grint), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and Adriane (Abby Quinn) are the other three intruders, all from a different walk of life. Each actor brings something special to their roles, making the characters believable and relatable, as far as being in a situation such as this.
Those missing Shyamalan’s ability to hold tension will be pleased. The filmmaker uses a patient and less showy style here, focusing on the characters. There is a subtlety to the rigid focus of capturing the way Eric and Andrew try to plan their escape while tied to chairs and an unnerving duplicity in the way Eric begins to react to their situation.
Cinematographers Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer do fantastic work with their anamorphic lensing. Shooting in 35mm film (a sad rarity these days), the picture has a retro-thriller feel that gives audiences a needed break from the handheld digital cameras that too often cause a visual blandness.
Shyamalan shoots tight, slowly unspooling how the proverbial walls are beginning to close in on the family and, perhaps, mankind itself. This is the smartest filmmaking Shyamalan has done in decades.
Adapting a novel from Paul Tremblay, Shyamalan and his co-screenwriters Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman know what makes a good thriller. Tensions don’t come merely from situations; it is the audience’s connection to the characters that make a film like this work.
The screenplay’s commitment to its characters makes the film pop and the terrifying moments hit harder.
A flashback structure gives weight to Eric and Andrew’s relationship and, (as a gay couple in today’s America), the prejudices they had to overcome to sustain it and a final shot shows the intruders as the regular people they were before this all happened.
While the film may be too on-the-nose with a few of its social commentaries, Shyamalan doesn’t allow his film to become lost in them, as he has done many times before.
With his latest, the director fills the picture with substance. This is a work that speaks to our current times by asking the weighty question, “Is this a world worth saving at all?”
A film that benefits greatly by not having the director’s patented twist ending, “Knock at the Cabin” is a tense thriller with apocalyptic overtones that finds a human touch amongst the real-world terror.
Knock at the Cabin
Written by Steve Desomnd, Michael Sheman, & M. Night Shyamalan (Based on the novel “The Cabin at the End of the World” by Paul Tremblay
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Kristen Cui, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint
R, 110 Minutes, Universal Pictures/Blinding Edge Pictures/FilmNation Entertainment