Knock at the Cabin – Film Review

A loving family are vacationing at a remote cabin in the woods. Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) are enjoying a picnic out back while their young adoptive daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) collects grasshoppers.

Wen is approached by a hulking yet gentle stranger who introduces himself then apologises for what he must do. Before the family know it, they are being held hostage by Leonard (Dave Bautista), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint). The four are armed, dangerous but oddly as frightened themselves as their captives.

What first appears to be a hate crime is much more, as the intruders force the happy family to make an impossible decision. Refusal to co-operate they say will result in the end of all life as we know it. The only thing more terrifying than the home invasion is just how convinced these strangers are that their apocalyptic prophecy will come true.

While Knock at the Cabin is based on Paul Tremblay‘s novel The Cabin at the End of the World (a far better title), this is an M. Night Shyamalan movie through and through. Despite some of his weaker outings, I remain a fan of Shyamalan. He undoubtedly has a passion for filmmaking and remains one of few mainstream directors who delivers original stories in a sea of derivatives. It is just unfortunate that Shyamalan will forever be pigeon-holed as ‘the twist guy’.

Knock at the Cabin is a movie best going into fresh knowing as little about it as possible. We grow to learn more about the family, their relationship, and their love for each other. But also, we witness the extent of the intruders’ devotion to their beliefs. The question ‘Are truly harbingers of Armageddon or just really, REALLY crazy?’ looms heavy.

Something else which looms heavy is Bautista in yet another role which shows his ability as an actor. He isn’t given much to work with and yet he still manages to be much more than he first appears. Warm, friendly, and apologetic while still being able to tear your head off.

That’s something I appreciated here, the little things which made the characters feel more believable. Cui is adorable as Wen but the fact her character has a cleft palate while irrelevant was a nice touch of reality. The inclusion of an LGBTQ+ family too in its own way makes the question of the intruders’ possible motives more intriguing.

These little things have always been welcome additions in Shyamalan‘s films. On the other hand, he is not without his ham-fisted moments. Some scenes of dramatic tension here are ruined by just how rushed and artificially they are delivered.

Dual cinematographers, Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer manage to keep the film’s single location setting from growing stale. Not only is this movie set largely in a cabin, but it is also set mostly within just one room. Taking a page from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, many interesting and unusual camera angles ensure that we the audience never get cabin fever.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Knock at the Cabin which runs its core premise into the ground. While the action and tension does pick up, the story is stuck in the same gear throughout. The script needed more of ‘the twist guy’ to extend it past that of a short story. As a result, even at a mere 100 minutes, the film drags to the, by then, rather predictable finale. 

I can’t help but think that Shyamalan would be well suited to an anthology series of one-hour short films. Knock at the Cabin is an interesting concept stretched too thin. However, it features above-par performances from a talented cast and an inventive eye for horror. Shyamalan once again serves us another interesting but flawed film.

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