Sunday, July 9, 2023

Who's There?

Film: Knock at the Cabin
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Remember 1999, and how much promise M. Night Shyamalan had? When The Sixth Sense came out, it felt like there was a new, powerful voice in film, and Unbreakable was interesting as well. And then, well, his career started to drop off pretty dramatically. People still allow him to make movies despite the fact that his name is on both The Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender, which is arguably the worst television-to-movie adaptation in history. That being the case, I went into Knock at the Cabin with some worries.

The problem with Shyamalan is not that his ideas aren’t good, but that his follow-through is often lacking. He makes some bad choices, frankly. A lot of that is because, thanks to his first few movies, it seems like he finds it necessary to cobble in a twist near the ending of the film, and that often happens to the story’s detriment. Twists are great, but they’re also really risky, and Shyamalan came up snake eyes a bunch of times in a row. It’s also worth saying that because this is a Shyamalan film and he lives or dies on those twists, you should expect the rest of this to be under a spoiler tag.

Knock at the Cabin is essentially a high concept film. A young family, Eric (Jonathan Groff), Andrew (Ben Aldridge), and their adopted daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) are on vacation at an isolated cabin. Their vacation is interrupted by a group of four people—Leonard (Dave Bautista), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint). These four visitors tell our little family that they must decide to sacrifice one of the three of them and kill them, or they will trigger the apocalypse.

And there you have the entire plot of Knock at the Cabin. What proceeds from there is a series of escalations of what is happening in the world around the isolated people in the cabin and the increasing pressure from the four visitors to force a sacrifice as much as they can. Naturally, the small family doesn’t buy what is happening here (who would?) and are convinced that they have specifically been targeted because they are a same-sex couple with an adopted child.

This is one of the things that Knock at the Cabin absolutely gets right. The fact that Eric and Andrew are a same-sex couple is definitely a part of the movie and ultimately relevant to the plot and the way that the story takes shape, but it’s not a movie that is “about” the fact that they are a same-sex couple. It’s relevant, but this movie would work 95% the same way with a male/female couple. It adds to the story being told, but in more subtle ways, and it’s virtually never the focus of the story.

One of the problems I frequently have with M. Night Shyamalan is that many of his movies actively proselytize, and this one definitely has its roots deep in Christian eschatology. Since we are talking about the literal apocalypse being thwarted here, it’s impossible not to see this as a commentary of sorts on Christian end times. At the same time, though, the idea of a new sacrifice being required seems incredibly off brand for Christianity, which is actually kind of refreshing in a strange way.

Overall, this is well acted. Kristen Cui is a very good child actor, and while a few of her line reads may be a touch wooden, overall she’s completely believable. I also really like the casting of Dave Bautista here. It’s very much against type for him to see him as a sort of nurturing teacher of young children, and he manages this well. It’s a good reminder that of wrestlers-turned-actors, Bautista might not have the most success, but he seems to have the most range.

Shyamalan clearly has some real talent that he can fall back on at times. Knock at the Cabin works in large part because it steps away from what we expect from a Shyamalan film in terms of there being a twist to make the story work. He should have started doing this about six movies ago. Ironically, a lot of the lower review scores for this seem to be happening for the same reason—it doesn’t have the expected twist, so it can be a bit disappointing.

This probably isn’t going to be anyone’s favorite film, but it’s a pretty good one. Go into this with an open mind, and you’ll likely find that it’s better than you might expect from M. Night’s career.

Why to watch Knock at the Cabin: This feels like the promise that Shyamalan had 25 years ago.
Why not to watch: The last few decades of Shyamalan’s career.


  1. I'm mixed on Shyamalan as a filmmaker though I did like Split and Glass but he is hit and miss though I don't hold him responsible for why After Earth sucked ass. I put the blame more on Willy-Will and his no-talent douchebag spoiled little shit.

    My only interest in this film is Dave Bautista who has become this amazing actor who can be funny, be a badass, and be serious. We wrestling fans tend to hold him in a higher regard as an actor than... the Crock. At least Bautista is doing different things and I believe he will get an Oscar one of these days. The Crock doesn't have what it takes anymore because his roody-poo candy-ass just does the same old shit and people are getting tired of it. He ruined a cinematic universe due to his own ego. His films have come cookie-cutter derp-de-derp bullshit. His sitcom just got cancelled and the XFL lost a lot of money. Sucks to the Crock.

    1. My wife's cousin is a long-time wrestling guy, and he's very much on the Bautista train. He's clearly the most versatile former wrestler turned actor, and I really like that he takes risks with the roles he is willing to take. He's very good in this.

      As for Shyamalan, the steaming pile that was The Last Airbender falls entirely on him. It is easily the worst TV-to-film adaptation ever, especially based on just how good the source material is. To get that as the movie is embarrassing and honestly should have ended his career completely.

    2. I do remember seeing something about the making of that film and how the hell did he fuck that up from casting a white kid with no acting talents to play the lead role that is meant for an Asian and all of this other shit. No wonder people took a shit on it and I saw some of it and wow... it is one of the worst things ever made.

      I remember going to see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and there was a trailer for a film he produced and the moment is name popped up. There was a massive collective sound of groans including myself as I went "ugh" that was heard. That must've been a fucking low point.

    3. It's so bad. The source material (I don't know if you know it) is amazing--genuinely one of the best televison shows ever made, not just best animated shows. It's smart, deals with difficult events in a way that kids can process and doesn't hide or shy away from looking at really difficult topics--death, betrayal, insanity, parental abuse, war, refugees, and more. And it's still funny and silly. If you've never seen it, you can get through it in a week--and you will because it's that good.

      The movie, though? It's an embarrassment. It genuinely should have ended his career. It's that bad.

  2. I'm pretty much done with Shaymalan and I did read the book this was based off of and didn't care for it. I know he massively changed the ending, but it doesn't sound like it really helped overall.

    1. I would never tell someone that they should give Shyamalan another chance. There's a reason I tend to call him M. Night Shame-About-Your-Last-Film.

      I thought this was okay, but you're not missing anything essential if you skip it.