M Night Shyamalan Knock at the Cabin Review

Knock at the Cabin is another M. Night Shyamalan hit

4 out of 5 stars

For years, M. Night Shyamalan was (unfairly) relegated to a punching bag. In an age steeped in irony, his earnestness and genuine love for humanity were at odds with the prevailing culture. Though he undeniably made some clunkers on the way (The Last Airbender and After Earth), he’s slowly regaining appreciation with strange and horrific films like The Visit and Old

His latest, Knock at the Cabin, feels intimately connected to one of his most underappreciated films, The Happening, as apocalyptic undertones meet a story of personal sacrifice and development. A gay couple on a cabin vacation with their adopted daughter is held hostage by four strangers who claim to have visions of an imminent apocalyptic event. To save humanity, the young family must decide to sacrifice and kill one of their own. If they don’t, the world will end. 

The leader of the doomsday group, Leonard (Dave Bautista), arrives on the horizon like a behemoth. He has a lumbering but gentle stride as he approaches Wen (Kristen Cui) and her collection of captured grasshoppers. Leonard leans into her, and his manner is gentle and curious. Even though she insists she doesn’t talk to strangers, he puts her at ease and even helps collect more insects for her collection. Using extreme close-ups that fill the frame, they converse. The energy is electric; nervous but also warm. 

As other figures arrive on the horizon, holding makeshift weapons, Leonard urges Wen to go to the house and tell her fathers to let them in. Suddenly afraid, she enters the cabin crying. Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff) try to call for help, then to defend themselves, but are helpless against their unpracticed but steadfast invaders. The clock starts ticking. The end is nigh. 

Knock at the Cabin works best as it plays into Shyamalan’s overarching themes: meta-narratives, ordinary people doing extraordinary things and the way fear shapes us. The characters in Knock at the Cabin are teachers and nurses. They’re people living their everyday lives, trying to get by and survive. Their priorities are grounded and simple; they want to be happy and protect those they love from harm. 

Fear has a way of creeping into these stories and clouding judgement. For Andrew, we understand a character who has been ostracized and aggressed for being different. Rejected by his family and society, he finds unique solace in his love for Eric. After a near-fatal attack later in his life, we understand why and how he’d do anything to save those he loves. Fear makes him fiercely protective but also has a way of closing him off. He can’t see beyond his preconceptions to imagine a different type of world. 

In 2023, it’s difficult not to read Knock at the Cabin within the scope of the pandemic. It emphasizes the power of the ordinary person to do extraordinary things, not just in the sense of the fantastical premise of an apocalyptic event but in the idea that people like parents, teachers and nurses are already living proof of compassion and love. In that sense, it’s difficult not to admire Shyamalan’s understanding that most people act out in fear and hope when faced with hardship; they will inevitably make a choice rooted in empathy. Far beyond the limits of the family unit, Shyamalan’s cinema uplifts all the people within society who go unnoticed despite their commitment to warmth and inclusiveness. 

Knock at the Cabin meanders at some points and might not be as overt a horror film as some of his most recent entries. It has at least one terrifying setpiece (the “sky is falling” prophecy unlocked a new terrifying fear). The performances are rock solid and infused with a reactive love that we rarely see in American cinema anymore. Bautista, in particular, steps into the shoes of someone like James Stewart, downplaying his extraordinary physical presence with a softness and love that pierces through you. It overall presents an impossible challenge to people who, by all accounts, deserve to live out their happy lives. It might not convert the Shyamalan skeptics, but it’s undeniably true to his filmmaking values, for better or worse. 

Knock at the Cabin (directed by M. Night Shyamalan)

Knock at the Cabin opened in Montreal theatres on Friday, Feb. 3, and is now streaming in Canada on Prime Video.

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