A Startling Tale Of The End Times
By Elisabeth McGowan
Knock at the Cabin is a new one for M. Night Shyamalan. Without scaring his audience like in Devil or Split, his 2023 movie offers a more meaningful thriller rather than an intense horror. The only impediment is the slow journey to its eventual climax. Starring Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Rupert Grint, Ben Aldridge, Abby Quinn, Nikki Amuka-Bird, and last but not least, the young Kristen Cui, Knock at the Cabin presents an emotional rollercoaster. However, horror fans should be warned that they shouldn’t expect any death-defying jump scares or uber creepy moments.
Set in a rural Pennsylvania rental cabin, 7-year-old Wen (Cui) is catching grasshoppers outside while enjoying a trip with her two dads, Eric (Groff) and Andrew (Aldridge). When the tall, muscular Leonard (Bautista) approaches her to promise her that they’re “friends” and that he won’t let anything happen to her, the little girl retreats to tell her dads about the intimidating group closing in on them with one unique threat: sacrifice one of themselves to prevent the apocalypse.
With exceptional performances by Groff, Aldridge and Cui, Knock at the Cabin remains afloat in terms of its urgency; the Broadway actor and the former Our Girl star’s portrayals of dedicated parents and husbands were highlights of the movie, followed by Cui’s innocent, heart wrenching, and overall tangible fear. Alas, 75 percent of the film is mainly a slow progression toward what we’re already expecting – some sort of turning event — and so, viewers feel as if we’re absentmindedly jogging to a finish line that we can see far away from us. Shyamalan is known for his climactic endings, and he definitely delivers that in his newest mystery-thriller, but it could have used more urgency throughout its script. It’s better to give the audience a few curve balls while keeping them on track with the main pitch; viewers can feel like different throws come out of left field, but in the end, they can still foresee the conclusion coming right at them.
The Old-Fashioned Aesthetic
Right from the start, Knock at the Cabin exudes an old-fashioned cinematic aura. From the beginning credits to the cinematography, and to the film score, Shyamalan made sure to introduce us to a story that we’re initially unsure of which time period it takes place in until, of course, we see a smartphone and modern television.
Cinematographic choices elevated the thriller’s old-school movie feel. The zoom-ins and zoom-outs of certain characters’ faces, such as Leonard’s, establish a suspense that volleys back and forth throughout the story. The suspense is almost like a dull ache or a steady EKG; we don’t get a spike in urgency as much as we’d like to, but it’s still there. The stakes are high. We just can’t feel them as much as we could for a more effective story.
On top of that, the entire plot is a nod to older films. The “doomsday” theme is something we laugh at now, but Shyamalan brought it back in a simple way: four random people break into a family’s vacation rental to try and convince them that the apocalypse is here. Since The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, we haven’t had as many action-drama worldwide apocalyptic films as much as before. So, it’s refreshing to watch a story delivered with a 1970s through 1990s cinematic approach return to the big screen.
The Progression of the Convincing
When the four intruders introduce themselves to Eric, Andrew and Wen, it’s difficult to believe them — especially for Andrew. Honestly, who would believe them? It’s very common to hear those “doomsdayers” on the streets, as Andrew points out. So, as the audience, we already know that it’s going to take some serious convincing to urge these three innocent people to make the ultimate sacrifice. Therefore, it takes a long length of time for a sliver of belief and empathy to kick in. However, it only happens within one main character.
As the original trailer revealed, the apocalypse visionaries turn on the TV to reveal tidal waves, an epidemic, and more earth-killing events. Obviously, this is alarming, but is it enough to coerce the main characters that they, out of everyone else, must kill one of their own to save the world? And the second question that Andrew poses is controversial but understandable: why should they?
Sometimes, less is more, but not with Knock at the Cabin. Shyamalan only worked with seven main actors and one location. This could have been effective if more urgency was injected intermittently throughout the story as a whole. As the family learns more about the four intruders, we still feel like we’re trying to pull more suspense from nothing. It shouldn’t feel like we need to work for it until it happens later on.
Perhaps Shyamalan could have included smaller tidbits of thrills in his movie. Since he included flashbacks for us to learn more about how Andrew and Eric fell in love, how they eventually adopted Wen, and how the trio sweetly sings “Boogey Shoes” in the car together, we would benefit from watching flashes of dilemma too, such as with the supposed antagonists. Who are they? Are they absolutely believable? How high are the stakes really for them, as we only see everything now in this cabin instead of what led them here?
Ultimately, Knock at the Cabin is a solid mystery. In good old Shyamalan fashion, the turning point doesn’t happen until the last 5 to 10 minutes of the film. However, the fear factor could be strengthened with more jolts and dark moments. The scene when Wen tries to escape could have lasted slightly longer and have been shot with a more sinister element. Nevertheless, horror doesn’t always need to include blood and jump scares. The real fright in this movie is the choice that the family is urged to make.
Shyamalan wanted us to see how humanity can move forward in the face of hopelessness. How far are we willing to go for the people we love versus how we perceive the rest of the world? Why does it have to be our job to protect others if they wouldn’t do the same for us? This is one of the questions Andrew and Eric face after we see them get heckled by homophobic parents and a bar customer. Why should they save others when they’ve been brutalized by some of humanity?
Knock at the Cabin is in theaters now.
Knock at the Cabin (2023) Official Universal Trailer
|Elisabeth joined Dead Talk News in 2022 and loves movies and TV! After working for various sites, including Screen Rant and Showbiz Cheat Sheet, Elisabeth joined DTN to critique and review various movies, from horror flicks to Disney live-actions.|