Knock at the Cabin (2023)
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenwriters: M. Night Shyamalan, Steve Desmond, Michael Sherman
Starring: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Kristen Cui, Rupert Grint, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn
M. Night Shyamalan has a chequered past of films with mixed reviews. From imposter grandparents to a village terrorized by cloaked figures, the writer/director has shown a penchant for campy plotlines and stilted dialogue. For some, these fantasy lands are too extreme – too silly, too topical, too much – but for others they are an (sometimes whimsical) escape into the human psyche. There’s an art to Shyamalan’s madness, though; his often ridiculous premises are pursued with such an earnestness that they’re difficult to hate.
Knock at the Cabin is no different. Starring Marvel regular Dave Bautista and Broadway superstar (and ‘Glee’ alum) Jonathan Groff, the film is a bona fide crowd-pleaser sprinkled with convoluted political messages. Though the themes occasionally get lost, the film is an enjoyable watch that seeks to unlock a larger truth.
We open on a young girl, Wen (Kristen Cui), catching grasshoppers outside her family’s idyllic cabin rental in the woods. She is interrupted when a gentle but intimidating man named Leonard (Dave Bautista) approaches her. Soon, Wen and her fathers find themselves at the mercy of four weapon-clad strangers who force the family to make a human sacrifice or unleash the apocalypse upon all of humanity.
Despite some corny dialogue, there is no question that Shyamalan is a master of holding tension. He is a seasoned filmmaker who has a good idea of what his strengths and weaknesses are, and that is evident here: the directing is solid and the film’s promised acts of brutality are chaotic and exhilarating at the same time. What’s more is that ever since the instant classic The Sixth Sense, the writer-director has been Hollywood’s King of the Plot Twist. Even when we think we have our bearings in one of his films, there’s always something lurking around the corner. Knock at the Cabin is more tame than most of the films in his filmography, but Shyamalan maintains a level of mystery that ensures this latest release is just as much of a joy to watch.
Jonathan Groff as Eric and Ben Aldridge as Andrew make a believable couple around whom Shyamalan focuses his philosophical undertaking. We see occasional flashbacks to their lives pre-disaster and understand that the two have been tested by violence and prejudice in the past. Their motivations are clear and we empathize with their insistence upon putting their family before almost anything else. Further powered by an energetic performance by actress Kristen Cui, who plays an intelligent and witty Wen, the central family unit is a strong and likable one.
Though Shyamalan’s dialogue is especially cheesy and comes across as strange at times, actor Dave Bautista is able to round out a strong performance with a mix of strength and devastating sweetness. He meshes well with the rest of the cast and helms the apocalyptic charge against the family of three. Unfortunately, Rupert Grint (who portrays a bigoted Bostonian man named Redmond) is not given the same opportunity to flourish. Many Millennials and Harry Potter fans were excited by Grint’s return to the screen, but this particular experience certainly lacks the substance for anyone craving that particular hit of nostalgia.
Knock at the Cabin is a cheeky look at a sinister question about human existence and identity. It asks a simple question with a seemingly impossible answer: how far would you go to save your family? Though it is certainly more campy than deeply philosophical, Knock at the Cabin is worth a trip to the theater. If there’s anyone you should trust with a star-studded romp through apocalyptic wastelands, it’s M. Night Shyamalan, the man who brought us the beach that makes you old.