abby quinn, ben aldridge, dave bautista, jarin blaschke, jonathan groff, knock at the cabin, kristen cui, lowell a meyer, m night syamalan, Nikki Amuka-Bird, paul tremblay, rupert grint, Universal, Universal Horror
Going from “The Next Spielberg” to being box office poison and then beyond, M. Night Shyamalan has had one of the most interesting career arcs of modern hollywood. No one else has experienced the sheer number of highs and lows as him, and going into one of his films these days comes with a hefty anticipation. Knock at the Cabin continues Shyamalan’s recent slew of high concept low budget thrillers. The film is based on the award winning novel Cabin at the End of the World (a much better title) by Paul Tremblay and follows roughly the same plot with a couple of big differences.
While on holiday at a cabin in the woods, family of three (Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge & Kristen Cui) are assailed by four mysterious strangers (Dave Bautista, Rupert Grint, Nikki Amuka-Bird, and Abby Quinn) who put an impossible choice before the family, testing their love and their faith: one of them must be sacrificed or the world will end. Throughout the story we flashback to little moments in Daddy Andrew (Aldridge) and Daddy Eric’s (Groff) life together and all the moments that have led to here. It’s a great chewy moral decision that is incredibly engaging.
The film is a taut and strongly performed twist on home invasion and end of the world genres. Dave Bautista is particularly haunting in this film, managing to ground the odd-Shyamalan dialogue in intense commitment and emotion. The film begins with Wen (Cui) catching grasshoppers when she spots a foreboding strange man, Leonard (Bautista), who approaches and engages the little girl in a game; it’s a deeply chilling and ominous opener. The cinematography by Lowell A. Meyer (who worked on the Shyamalan presented The Servant) and Jarin Blaschke (Robert Egger’s DOP) creates intense claustrophobia and heightens the emotionality of all these great performances, at certain moments punching in closer and closer to their faces until we can’t take it anymore. This film is up there with the best looking of his filmography, with probably the smallest scale of the lot.
The script was one of the hottest screenplays on the Blacklist a few years ago, by Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, two newcomers in the industry. M.Night is a credited writer as well and it absolutely shows. When Shyamalan’s dialogue is in the right actor’s hands it creates a dream-like quality that fits perfectly into the worlds he creates and when it’s bad it’s Mark Wahlberg asking about What’s Happening with these frickin’ plants? In this film it’s all working on the right side of that spectrum and at only an hour and 40 minutes it’s like an oasis in an Arrakis-sized wasteland of 2 hour and 40 minute plus films everywhere you look.
I welcome this third act of Shyalaman’s career, where he’s leaning smaller, pulpier and more personally invested. He has been partially funding his films since The Visit (2015) after getting swallowed up by the Hollywood system with the colossal bombs of After Earth and Last Airbender. Knock at the Cabin fits the bill when it comes to a great Shyamalan Film; questions of faith, great performances from children, the dedicatedly unnatural dialogue, and a pitch at home in an elevator. He might not have ever reached the heights of Spielberg but he seems to have truly found the place he loves to make movies and I think the landscape is better for it.
- Oscar Jack