Review: ‘Knock At The Cabin’

M. Night Shyamalan's Doomsday Thriller Is A Knock Worth Answering

M. Night Shyamalan will probably never get the credit he deserves. Not anymore, anyway. He started off too hot, fell into too deep of a creative trench, and ever since when he releases a new thriller the same old critics pretend the only good work he’s done was at the start of his career. That’s not true, and Shyamalan has cranked out another top-notch, thought-provoking thriller with Knock At the Cabin, a Stephen King-esque story about a family forced to make the most terrible of decisions to maybe save the world.

In the opening scenes, we encounter Wen (Kristen Cui), a little 7-year-old girl having fun collecting grasshoppers. Wen is a thoughtful, caring child, telling the insects that she won’t hurt them, she just wants to “study” them for a while. This moment of innocent observation is broken with the arrival of the hulking Leonard, played by a very nervous, sensitive, and yet still very intimidating Dave Bautista. Unlike his former WWE persona, Bautista has now grown into an actor who is more terrifying the more normal he appears.

Shyamlan, co-writing the script with two others, doesn’t waste time. This is one of his leaner scripts, actually, adapting certain elements of Paul Tremblay’s novel while making the story his own. Shyamalan did something similar with 2021’s Old. It doesn’t take long before the disarming Leonard has befriended Wen, telling her that he needs to speak with her adoptive parents, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge). But it’s then that Wen sees the crew that Leonard is traveling with, all carrying makeshift weapons. Redmond (Rupert Grint), Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird) join Leonard in bursting into the remote Pennsylvania cabin, taking the family hostage after a bit of violence.

Leonard has arrived with a terrible doomsday scenario. Eric and Andrew must sacrifice one of their own in order to stop an apocalypse that will destroy all of humanity. It’s an impossible choice, and Shyamalan doesn’t pretend that it isn’t. There’s skepticism coming from the family, for obvious reasons. One of the many themes swirling around in this film is how easy it is to get swept up in conspiracy theory. You get swallowed up by an echo chamber and suddenly everything is the end of the world. But Eric and Andrew have another reason to not take this seriously; they suspect that it’s all some bigoted master plan to convert them from homosexuality, not an altogether ludicrous idea.

Few are better at ratcheting up tension in small spaces than Shyamalan, and he gets the most from having these characters in an ideological stand-off. But there are deadly consequences the longer no decision is made, enough that any of them could have their faith shaken…or reinforced. What makes things even more tense is that nobody in Leonard’s group wants to be doing this. They are all seemingly normal people who have a higher calling that has brought them together. If they were just criminals with a grudge, this would be so simple.

The opening scene of the film carries a surprising amount of weight, throughout. The idea of a higher power studying humans like insects in a jar, watching how they behave, love, and destroy one another. This powerful being stands in judgement of them, and the repercussions of are terrible if they are found wanting. Knock At the Cabin is the most overt exploration of faith that Shyamalan has made in quite some time.

Bautista is tremendous as the soft-spoken Leonard, who has given his life utterly to carrying out this awful task. He acknowledges how this will destroy this loving young family, but also that things will be infinitely worse if nothing is done. Somehow, we manage to find sympathy for everyone in this story, which is a credit to the cast.

Breaking up the showdown are flashes back to earlier moments in Eric and Andrew’s relationship; their struggles as a gay couple, adopting Wen, and Andrew’s short temper. This is the one aspect of the film that feels out-of-place. Many of these scenes serve little purpose. Others suggest a homophobia angle that doesn’t really work as a tease in this scenario.

Shyamalan deviates from our expectations of him in the final stretch. What easily could’ve been a really grim gut punch, turns out to be more hopeful than Shyamalan films tend to play out. Shyamalan has found some of his best creative success adapting the work of others, and while that shouldn’t deter him from doing more original work, if there’s a Knock At the Cabin be sure to answer it.

Knock At the Cabin opens in theaters on February 3rd.

Knock At the Cabin
Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-knock-at-the-cabinM. Night Shyamalan will probably never get the credit he deserves. Not anymore, anyway. He started off too hot, fell into too deep of a creative trench, and ever since when he releases a new thriller the same old critics pretend the only good...