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.
By now Zack Snyder’s Netflix feature starring Dave Bautista is a massive streaming success which indicates that it was firmly on the pulse of the average punters celluloid palette.
You can see why as the trailer promises a jam-packed action feast billed as a cross between a comrade bank heist flick with elements of Oceans 11 (The Vegas element has a lot to do with this), with a post apocalyptic zombie infested world. The films detailed prologue entails a zombie outbreak in the greed, glitz and glam of Las Vegas which is contained by huge storage containers that form a wall around the city.
Then we’re presented with the premise. There’s money ripe for the picking in the vaults of the casinos and Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) employs Scott (Bautista) to form a crack guerilla team to infiltrate the quarantined city and retrieve the bounty. It’s a mad proposition but one Scott is willing to take up for a chance to rebuild his life and possibly reconnect with his daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), who he has become estranged with since the zombie outbreak occured.
Once the carrot has been dangled, the audience then sit back and eagerly wait for the carnage to begin. But first we must endure the Mission Impossible style formation of the team and our introduction to them and possible zombie fodder. There’s two of Scott’s former associates, Maria Cruz (Ana de le Ruguera) and Vanderhoe (Omari Hardwick) the spiritual member of the group, helicopter pilot Marianne (Tig Notaro, who stepped into replace Chris D’Elia through CGI and green screens costing Snyder a fair packet of the production costs), German safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), and Chicano sharpshooter Guzman (Raúl Castillo) to name but a few.
Once the set up is established Scott’s daughter Kate, Tanaka’s associate Martin, and with the help of Lily aka The Coyote, the team sneak into the quarantined walls to carry out their mission. The catch, The Government are planning on nuking the whole city in a couple of days, so there’s no time for messing around. Plus, you know, it amplifies the tension… And of course you know that that timeline is going to shorten once said Government decide to move the nuke strike up, meaning the team have even less time to complete their task.
Here’s the thing that gets my goat though. With such a cool premise, there’s not much substance for the audience to chew on. Some may counter that with me, stating that it does exactly what it says on the tin. But I like my movies served a little cooked, not raw.
There is some humour on display and some strangled attempts at deep and meaningful chats along the way, but it’s missing some zing to tantalise us with.
Since watching the film there’s been some online discussions about Scott’s team stuck in a time loop purgatory, and this idea I can get behind and if there is truth to this theory, all of a sudden this film gets elevated a little in my reception of it. With rumours of a follow up film on the horizon and with Netflix’s success story to couple it, I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t fleshed out in some way. I just hope that they can work on the story a little more and give the characters more to work with now that they’ve been established and give the audience a more hefty and enjoyable experience.
Snyder provides us with another gloriously shot, stellar CGI, packed with some cracking action. But it is a little half baked and rests on a small thread of an idea. Yes that’s a cool thread, but needs more time and energy spent on building up the storyline and characters to allow them to stand out more. But I guess time is the real player here. And time will tell if this story will continue and we get more from Snyder’s world or not.
100 years ago the Roaring Twenties came into effect with a social and economic boom that pushed the boundaries of experimentation and exploration dubbing it the crazy years.
Cinema has evolved greatly during this time and spawned Robert Miene’s silent horror in German Expressionism, which is still considered a classic among some critics.
While the tides have shifted and the boundaries of what is classified as horror has twisted through the years, moving numerous debates and discussions along the way, we come to a time when originality can be hard to come by, or perhaps the audience has become too critical and our perceptions have changed.
Can the films of today cause a deeper development in the genre that we’ve come to love and like the films that were born a century ago stir the insanity again and break new ground in the process?
Let’s look at what 2020 has in store and see if indeed it will deliver.
This film has led some early reports to compare it to Alien but in the ocean deep instead of the far reaches of space. It does boast Kristen Stewart in the cast who may divide audiences and has been a bit hit and miss of late in her film choices but she is supported in this instance by Vincent Cassel, who is known for choosing experimental films. Does this then mean that this team of underwater researchers will uncover not only a few beasties but also break new ground in the process?
Prediction: Neither sink or swim. A drifter that will entertain some but not cast anything new into the cinematic landscape.
Jan 24 – The Turning
Based on Henry James novel, The Turn of the Screw and produced by Steven Spielberg, it stars Mackenzie Davis (Terminator: Dark Fate) and Finn “Can my hair grow any longer?” Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and bears close scrutiny as director Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep) is set to release an interpretation of the novel in Netflix series, The Haunting of Bly Manor, his follow up to the successful The Haunting of Hill House.
Prediction: Director Floria Sigismondi will no doubt bring some artistic visual flair that is evidence from her music videos, but could possibly fall foul of “popcorn syndrome” – Light, fluffy with a bit of crunch and serves the masses, but ultimately has no substance.
Initially I was really excited about this release, being a fan of the Ju On franchise, plus Nicolas Pesce’s work with The Eyes of My Mother, and Piercing. Both movies have pushed the boundaries of comfort and shot in stylistic fashion that I was keen to see where Pesce would take The Grudge. Early reports haven’t been favourable however, so it could be another disappointment in the first month of the new decade.
Prediction: Could be another franchise instalment too many. The name alone will pull in the numbers, yet may not hit the mark on the scare front.
Jan 31 – Gretel and Hansel
It’s been over 200 years since The Brothers Grimm fashioned the fairy tale about a cannibalistic witch that kidnaps two children roaming in the woods. The fact that it is still resonates today is a testament to the strength of the storytelling and it will be interesting to see the story told from the perspective of Gretel played by Sophia Lillis (IT) who has already proved compelling as the young Beverly Marsh.
Prediction: Better than your average fair without necessarily offering anything new or compelling with the horror genre.
Some may argue its place in this list, but it is billed as a psychological horror and director Robert Eggers has already made a name for himself in the artistic expressionism world within the genre with his debut feature, The VVitch, a film that also divided audiences. American audiences have already seen the movie too as it was released there last year, but as yet Australian audiences are still to see Eggers’ sophomore outing which pits Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson against one another in a battle of wills and sanity in a remote and confined island.
Prediction: Will wow audiences looking for the alternative and alienate those more into the mainstream. Either way, both audiences will applaud the performances and Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke will paint a stunningly beautiful canvas.
Feb 13 – Fantasy Island
Blumhouse Productions are about to shake things up again by breathing new life into a cult 70s tv series. With a star-studded cast – Michael Pena (Crash), Maggie Q (Nikita), Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars), and Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer). On an island where your fantasies come true, only to turn into nightmares and the guests must figure out its mystery in order to survive.
Prediction: Another success for Jason Blum and the team which will connect with the cinema-going public. If it’s played right, it could offer a fresh take using a blend of fantasy and horror that could also spark a franchise
Feb 21 – Brahms: The Boy ll
This one is a bit of an oddity. Whilst its predecessor was a middle of the road affair and proved to be better than expected. It did feel like a one-off movie that didn’t necessarily warrant any further journey into the world of Brahms. A sequel is here though and will pick up with the doll being discovered by another family.
Prediction: A flop that will fall by the wayside and may not even make a blip on the radar.
Feb 27 – The Invisible Man
Another Blumhouse movie, this time in collaboration with Universal to resurrect their monsters franchise after the abysmal Tom Cruise vehicle from a few years ago. In what is potentially a ripe and current topic being explored in domestic violence as its central theme The Invisible Man boasts a cracking cast with Elisabeth Moss taking lead duties. It’s also in great hands with director Leigh Whannel steering the ship following his successful movie Upgrade from last year, plus Whannel is a storyteller, so expect a decent script to boot.
Prediction: The first big success of the year bringing the Universal monsters franchise back on track and paving the way for future projects with The Bride, Renfeld, The Invisible Woman, and Frankenstein.
Mar 20 – A Quiet Place Part 2
The question is whether director John Krasiniski can repeat the winning formula from the first movie. This War of the Worlds style feature with an audio twist is more sci-fi than horror, but with the family in plight scenario held a strong connection with the audience. How will this translate now that there is an absent father?
Prediction: Cillian Murphy will provide some much needed gravitas to the narrative which will be strong enough to lift the audience through with some decent ups and downs to wrench up the tension.
Apr 3 – The New Mutants
Since Disney took over Marvel operations, The New Mutants has been stuck in production, deemed a little dark for the House of Mouse questioning how to distribute it. The feature comes across as The Dream Warriors crossed with the X-Men and centres on 5 young mutants held in a secret facility against their will. It also boasts a cracking cast with Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones), Anya Taylor-Joy (The VVitch, Split), and Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things).
Prediction: Despite several delays I feel that this film is gonna connect in a big way and pull in a lot of people. It just depends on how dark Disney are willing to go with it.
Apr 17 – Antlers
Little is known about this movie other than it is based on a short story by Nick Antosca the creative mind behind the Channel Zero anthology series. The screenplay must have some potential to have caught the eye of Guillermo Del Toro and put his name down as producer.
Prediction: With Keri Russell in the cast to provide the fantasy elements in reality, this could well be the surprise hit of the year.
May 15 – Saw reboot
Currently titled The Organ Donor starring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson and Max Minghella this reboot of the Saw franchise will see the return of the Jigsaw Killer, but without Tobin Bell… I think? With director Darren Lynn Bousman at the helm once more following his turn overseeing parts 2-4, he is no stranger to the world.
Prediction: Will put bums on seats for the shock gore factor alone, but will the buddy cop drama approach pay off? Time will tell.
Jun 11 – Candyman
This is gonna be a tough one to watch for me as I am such a huge fan of the original movie and like Freddy, Candyman would haunt my dreams for a long time after viewing. A lot of that has to do with the strength of Clive Barker’s short story coupled with Tony Todd’s personification of the titular character. Part of me is willing for this to be a success though as I can see room for the movie to be delivered to a modern audience using folklore and mythology at its core, and the storyline itself can transcend easily through the ages. It will be interesting to see a female perspective in director Nia DaCosta to follow Helen’s journalistic investigations.
Prediction: Jordan Peele has attached his name to this project and is clearly passionate about the story, but one can’t help but feel this is one step too far in rekindling the old flame that resides within the Candyman story.
Jul 2 – Ghostbuster: Afterlife
I know it’s technically not a horror film, but I’m including this in the mix for its nostalgic value in me the original movie paved the love of horror that I have and opened the door to many more glorious visions in the genre ever since. The original team will return in some shape or form, but primarily the film centres around a mother and her two children who set up on a farm only to discover something paranormal lurking in the town.
Prediction: Another film that will be resting on the merits of the first film, and while it’s great to see Jason Reitman take on the franchise following in his father’s footsteps, one can only hope that there will be enough comedy, horror and sci-fi to capture that old magic, but I think it will just be a glimmer rather than that sparkle.
Jul 10 – The Purge 5
Supposedly returning for the final instalment the 12 hour no holds-barred, crimefest ignited something in the movie-going audience. It has seen five feature length instalments and 2 seasons.
Prediction: More of the same, so if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll love it. I for one think the films are fun and enjoyable and it will be interesting to see how James DiMonaco will conclude things.
Jul 30 – Morbius
Sony has promised to take the Marvel universe into dark territory before with Venom and here they intend to do so again with Morbius, the Living Vampire. Jared Leto will no doubt bring the goods for the titular role and is in good company with Matt Smith, Jared Leto, and Tyrese Gibson.
Prediction: Director Daniel Espinosa provides great entertaining and solid movies, such as Safe House and Life, and I see no change here to his formula, but still question if they can go dark enough to make it compelling for horror fans.
Sep 11 – The Conjuring 3 aka The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
The Conjuring universe has progressed in leaps and bounds since its initial release in 2013. There has been the odd blips, but essentially the films continue to entertain and scare audiences. This latest film will once again see the Warrens at the centre of proceedings, this time with one of their most publicised cases that bore witness to Arne Cheyenne Johnson claiming that he was possessed when he murdered.
Prediction: Solid acting, tight storyline, but may fall down with its delivery and exposition. Unfortunately Director Michael Chaves didn’t deliver with The Curse of La Llorona, so I fear that this may end up in a similar way, but am still willing to give it a chance.
Sep 17 – Last Night In Soho
Not much known about this one, but Edgar Wright has a knack for tapping the pulse of classic films and adapting their essence for a modern audience. This time around the psychological horror is inspired by Don’t Look Now and Polanski’s Repulsion both high in my all-time favourite lists
Prediction: A killer cast in Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, and Terence Stamp, this could be the ‘big hit’ of the year.
Oct 15 – Halloween Kills
In 2018, David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jason Blum attempted the impossible, the resurrection of Michael Myers that would connect both fans of the original and connect with a new audience. By delving into the subject of trauma and the impact that this has on its victims, Myers became both topical and harrowing. His sheer brutality and the force in which he attacks his victims made his carnage all the more disturbing.
Prediction: The name and sheer presence of Myers will bring the audience to the screens, but can they still make him relevant? They can’t rest on the nostalgic nods this time around. It’s a fine line to walk on, for if they get it wrong, they could find their final instalment, Halloween Ends a tricky sell.
TBC – Army of the Dead
For sheer shits and giggles, and action-pumped mayhem from visual storyteller Zack Snyder, about a group of mercenaries who decide to rob a casino during a zombie outbreak, this film concludes our list.
Prediction: Starring Dave Bautista, Army of the Dead will be entertaining if nothing else. A perfect answer for those just wanting to get their kicks and not have to think too deeply.