NOW IN THEATERS! Let’s face it. M. Night Shyamalan’s track record is spotty at best. He broke out early with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Those successes were followed up with a series of hits and misses, such as Lady in the Water and After Earth. Shyamalan directs and writes, with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, Knock at the Cabin, based on a 2018 novel by Paul Tremblay, The Cabin at the End of the World.
The story opens with a family on vacation in the woods: Eric (Jonathan Groff), Andrew (Ben Aldridge), and their adopted daughter, Wen (Kristin Cui). Wen is in the nearby field catching grasshoppers when she’s approached by the gentile giant Leonard (Dave Bautista). Leonard does his best to assure Wen that he is not a danger to her or her family, even though he is. An alarmed Wen rushes back to the cabin and warns her fathers that strangers are coming to the door.
Just then, Leonard and his crew, Redmond (Rupert Grint), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and Adrianne (Abby Quinn), bust down the door giving Eric a severe concussion in the process. The family, now tied and bound to chairs, listens as Leonard informs them that the apocalypse is coming, and in order to stop it, Eric, Andrew, or Wen must die at the hands of the other. The giant of a man warns that if they do not decide, a plague will be unleashed upon the earth until no one is left alive. One by one, the strangers will sacrifice one another to unleash the plague.
Knock at the Cabin is a return to form for Shyamalan. I think making an adaptation was the trick considering the mystery of the novel already proved successful, and if anything, the filmmaker is a master at crafting thrills and building tension. Surprise endings tend to be his downfall or his greatest success. In this case, the conclusion is set in stone, and neither Night nor his co-writers veer from it.
“…the apocalypse is coming, and in order to stop it, Eric, Andrew, or Wen must die at the hands of the other.”
The film is a tight hour-forty and hits the ground running with the opening image of a grasshopper. As little Wen, Kristin Cui is cute as hell and the perfect counter to Dave Bautista’s Leonard. Bautista absolutely shines as he carries much of the tension. A moment near the end between Eric and Andrew will break your heart and make you believe in love again.
I thankfully never read the novel Knock at the Cabin is based on, but I may get the audio version. Knowing nothing about the story, this thriller kept me guessing the entire time. Is this apocalyptic proposition real? Is it a master deception? Are they strangers delusional? Why are Leonard, Redmond, Sabrina, and Adrianne so sure of their destinies? Did these “strangers” create an elaborate plan to terrorize a gay couple? Before you ask, it is absolutely vital to the story and the ending that this be a gay couple faced with a world-ending decision.
In terms of thrills, the film is terrifying without ever showing actual tragedy or horror. That said, my only negative is that the narrative is pretty straightforward. The plot flows like a mighty river and never alters its course. But, for spoiler’s sake, I don’t want to say more than that.
I’ll end by saying there is a lore here that is unexplored and unexplained at the end, which I assume is in the book, but I wish it was explained even a little. Still, Knock at the Cabin is a thriller with great performances and will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
"…a thriller with great performances and will keep you on the edge of your seat..."