(Photo courtesy of The New York Times) “Knock at the Cabin” may not be remembered as the best of Shyamalan’s output.
Night Shyamalan has had perhaps the most tumultuous career of any director in modern Hollywood. “Knock at the Cabin” is his most interesting film since his 2015 comeback to credibility, but it, unfortunately, stumbles more often than it hits.
“Knock at the Cabin” follows a family that is captured in a cabin in the woods while on vacation by a group of four people. The group tells the family that one of them must willingly sacrifice themselves to prevent the apocalypse. With no access to any information about the world beyond what these four people are telling them and the occasional televised news reports, the family must decide whether to believe them or not.
The film has an unconventional thriller premise, and this unconventionality plays to both its benefit and its weakness. Despite the concept having little action baked into it, the pacing is effective enough for the film to not feel dull at any one point. While the group of four is portrayed initially as villainous for holding the family captive, their humanity and total belief in the apocalypse make them far more compelling than the traditional thriller villain.
The leader of the group, Leonard, is portrayed by Dave Bautista, who puts on a career-best performance. His nuanced performance as the stern, strong and emotional leader may not be theatrical or over-the-top, but it is constantly grounded and exceedingly believable compared to the rest of the cast’s entertainingly flashy performance.
These flashy performances can often feel a bit much, especially in the restrained setting of the film. While the other members of the group have a much-believed reason to be in a high level of emotional strife, it can often feel a bit much without anything else happening on the screen. Barrages of people crying and screaming at each other over the apocalypse in this quiet, secluded cabin often feel unintentionally humorous rather than emotionally affecting.
At the core of the film, every second poses this question: “Is it true?” Throughout the film, this is effectively set in a way to leave the audience guessing. It could be true; they could be lunatics and no one in the film or audience will know until it’s too late. This balance held up incredibly well until the very end, when everything fell apart.
In the final act, Shyamalan loses any trust in his viewers to connect the pieces of the film by themselves. Everything going on in the film is directly explained in monologues, and the ending is tied up in the neatest bow ever tied. Allowing the audience to interpret a single thing in this thematically meaty movie by themselves would have made it significantly more powerful. Instead, the audience is bashed over the head with a series of “did you get it?” revelations that either were already obvious or could have been left to debate.
Even when the film stumbles, Shyamalan proves himself throughout to be a director to continue to watch. The shots throughout the movie were incredibly unique, inspiring and engaging. While the story may lose itself at the end, the premise is wildly interesting and takes unique turns. The ending was too destructive for enjoyment to fully make “Knock at the Cabin” recommendable, but one thing is for sure: M. Night Shyamalan is not going anywhere.
Overall Grade: C