Maverick Life

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

‘Knock at the Cabin’ – home invasion horror meets the apocalypse

‘Knock at the Cabin’ – home invasion horror meets the apocalypse
Abby Quinn, Nikki Amuka Bird, Dave Bautista and Rupert Grint in 'Knock At The Cabin'. Image: Universal Pictures / Supplied

Given the inconsistency of filmmaker M Night Shyamalan’s work to date, the good news is that his latest tension-ratcheting, twisty thriller is actually good.

Is there a more inconsistent filmmaker working today than M Night Shyamalan? Here’s a man who gave audiences an instant classic, The Sixth Sense, and kept them on the edge of their seats with Signs and Split. However, Shyamalan also made the laughably bad Lady in the Water, The Happening and the infamous Last Airbender live-action film. Even the director’s 2021 release, Old, saw a promising concept shredded by cringe-inducing dialogue and acting.

So, where in such a bipolar filmography does Knock at the Cabin, Shyamalan’s latest big-screen effort, sit? Fortunately, the apocalypse-touched home invasion thriller is one of the good entries. 

There are flaws, to be sure, but these are balanced out with enough ticked boxes, as Shyamalan capitalises on his unquestionable strengths, to make Knock at the Cabin very watchable, if nowhere near a masterpiece. 

Using as its basis Paul Tremblay’s Bram Stoker Award-winning novel, The Cabin at the End of the World, Knock at the Cabin leverages a recurring theme in Shyamalan’s work: a family trying to survive a nightmarish situation that puts them at the mercy of unfathomable, omnipotent forces. In this case, couple Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), with their seven-year-old daughter Wen (Kristen Cui), are on holiday at a remote lakeside cabin in Pennsylvania when four armed strangers – played by Dave Bautista, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Rupert Grint and Abby Quinn – take them hostage. The family is presented with a chilling ultimatum: sacrifice one of their own or the world will end.

Still from 'Knock At The Cabin'. Image: Universal Pictures / Supplied

Still from ‘Knock At The Cabin’. Image: Universal Pictures / Supplied

Andrew (Ben Aldridge), Wen (Kristen Cui), Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Leonard (Dave Bautista) in 'Knock at the Cabin', directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Image: Universal Pictures / Supplied

Andrew (Ben Aldridge), Wen (Kristen Cui), Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Leonard (Dave Bautista) in ‘Knock at the Cabin’, directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Image: Universal Pictures / Supplied

It’s best to avoid later trailers for Knock at the Cabin, because they spoil the movie’s key mystery and tension: are the strangers suffering from a shared delusion, or is humanity really teetering on the brink of extinction? For everything that the family is offered as proof by Leonard (Bautista), sceptical Andrew has a credible explanation. As far as he’s concerned, they’ve just been targeted for torture by deranged homophobes. 

And, really, even if you strip out the apocalypse threat, which will keep you engaged at a cerebral level with its “is-it-isn’t-it?” prodding, Knock at the Cabin is an extremely suspenseful home invasion tale, hooking viewers emotionally. Unusually, the people on both sides of the situation are treated sympathetically – as desperate and terrified, but always trying to appear rational. 


Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations


In contrast to Old, performances are strong across the board in Knock at the Cabin, with child actor Cui and ex-WWE wrestler Bautista especially good. Proving his surprising skill as a thespian yet again in genre fare (See Blade Runner 2049, Army of the Dead, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1), Bautista gets to explore the contrast between his menacing appearance and polite manner. Viewers are always holding their breath in anticipation of the former taking hold.

It feels strange to say this in an era when many filmmakers struggle to rein their movies in under the two-hour mark, but Knock at the Cabin feels like it would have benefited from being longer than its extremely brisk 100-minute runtime. This would have provided more time to delve into the invader characters, including the dichotomy that is Leonard, and heightened the horror of the initial break-in. 

Ben Aldridge, Kristen Cui and Jonathan Groff in 'Knock At The Cabin'. Image: Universal Pictures / Supplied

Ben Aldridge, Kristen Cui and Jonathan Groff in ‘Knock At The Cabin’. Image: Universal Pictures / Supplied

Jonathan Groff and Dave Bautista in 'Knock At The Cabin'. Image: Universal Pictures / Supplied

Jonathan Groff and Dave Bautista in ‘Knock At The Cabin’. Image: Universal Pictures / Supplied

Dave Bautista and Kristen Cui in 'Knock At The Cabin'. Image: Universal Pictures / Supplied

Dave Bautista and Kristen Cui in ‘Knock At The Cabin’. Image: Universal Pictures / Supplied

Shyamalan wastes zero time in story set-up for Knock at the Cabin, starting with the attack, before using flashbacks and the cabin’s TV screen to flesh out the extremely constrained filmic universe. It’s an unusual inverted approach, pulling the rug out from under viewers much like Andrew and co – leaving everyone unsettled and unsure – but there’s also the sense that something has been lost in the process.

Speaking of loss, or waste more specifically, Knock at the Cabin is pretty pioneering as a mainstream horror film with gay characters as its heroes. It even goes so far as to make LGBT+ issues central to its storyline. However, this positive representation is offset by its utterly neutered depiction of Eric and Andrew’s relationship. Granted that sexual desire or romantic love has never had a strong showing in Shyamalan’s work, but here the lack of physical affection between a loving couple (not even hand holding or hugs) is glaring.

Still, as a thriller Knock at the Cabin delivers the goods, veering between unnerving and straight-up terrifying, and it does so without jump scares and gore. Barring some clumsy plot beats to manoeuvre characters and twist reveals into place, it shows a somewhat more subtle approach from Shyamalan, and excellent performances keep you engaged. DM/ML

This story was first published on Pfangirl.com

'Knock At The Cabin' poster. Image: Universal Pictures / Supplied

‘Knock At The Cabin’ poster. Image: Universal Pictures / Supplied

Knock at the Cabin was released in cinemas on 3 February, and is already available for home viewing in certain regions.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.