Few directors have been as revered and reviled as M. Night Shyamalan. His career has seen the highs of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Split, and the lows of The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth. An old-school Universal Pictures logo welcomes us into a brand new Shyamalan picture, Knock at the Cabin. This home invasion thriller follows a family being held hostage by four strangers who break into their cabin and demand they sacrifice one of their own to prevent the apocalypse.
While Knock at the Cabin may not be as bafflingly awful as films like The Last Airbender and Old, it remains a weak, predictable thriller that never takes advantage of its premise. Shyamalan’s style is something to behold, and it can be seen in nearly all of his work. He creates bold, thrilling stories with scary elements grounded in human drama. Sometimes, he pulls it off fantastically. With this one, not so much. This film is an adaptation of Paul G. Tremblay’s novel, The Cabin at the End of the World, with some significant changes to the ending. Unfortunately, despite the acclaimed book, Knock at the Cabin‘s narrative issues hold the film back from being the success it could be.
The film begins with a little girl named Wen (Kristen Cui) sitting outside a cabin and getting approached by a mysterious man named Leonard (Dave Bautista). Shyamalan chooses to helm this in tight close-ups, zeroing you in on the characters’ emotions and knowing the right moment for a Dutch angle. However, once the film kicks into high gear and we have our four antagonists trapping Wen and her two dads in the cabin, the movie takes a turn for the worse with all of the trademarks that make Shyamalan’s work suffer.
The performances and dialogue are stilted, some of them feeling so carefully scripted and crafted that you remember you’re watching a fictional narrative. However, some of the dialogue can be humorous to the point where the tension vanishes, and there is a scene that feels straight out of Old, where the four antagonists line up and introduce their name, their job, and more about themselves. In addition, Shyamalan’s directorial choices can sometimes pull the film back, even with Bautista’s layered, bone-chilling performance and the believable work from Ben Aldridge and Jonathan Groff as the couple.
The film does an excellent job of forcing the characters to make an impossible choice. They need to decide if they should save their family or save humanity. As the film progresses, the stakes are raised higher and higher as the characters turn on the TV and see reports of the apocalypse coming closer and closer. Andrew (Aldridge) is the naysayer who does not believe a word the four strangers are saying, which creates a lot of tension as you wonder whether these are four cult members manipulating and terrorizing an innocent family or if the apocalypse is coming for real, and they really are the only ones who can stop it.
However, the film’s lackluster structure is the culprit. Throughout the movie, we have flashbacks that showcase certain moments in our main characters’ lives before the main events. Unfortunately, the flashbacks add nothing to the story or characters. They are irrelevant to the story and don’t reveal anything that was not clearly established earlier in the film. There are moments of intensity in the cabin, but they are cut short by a sudden flashback with a completely different tone from the rest of Knock at the Cabin. The flashbacks would have been warranted if their content progressed the narrative or enriched the characterization of the couple, but they do very little to enhance the film.
Given that the flashbacks bring the story to a screeching halt, they are the weakest part of a film that could have easily gone without them. While there are elements of greatness, such as Shyamalan’s ability to tell a scary global phenomenon from the perspective of one family (much like he did in Signs), Knock at the Cabin loses you with its loosely written screenplay, tonal inconsistencies, and a story that never reaches its full, frightening potential.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 4 equates to “Poor.” The negatives outweigh the positive aspects making it a struggle to get through.