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M. Night Shyamalan Continues To Deliver In His Career Renaissance With The Uneasy Horror ‘Knock At The Cabin’ – Review

by Angel Amaral

I love that M. Night Shyamalan is always swinging for the fences with high-concept thrillers that pique my interest. There was a time when seeing a Shyamalan movie was a gamble; it could either be a hit or, mostly, a miss. Some of the misses I’m referring to are The Happening and The Last Airbender. Before this terrifying time, Academy Award nominee Shyamalan had ambitious films such as The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs. These films included great performances, effective camera work, and thought-provoking storytelling with twists and turns. Now we are in a new era for Shyamalan.

Knock at the Cabin is not my least favorite Shyamalan movie, and it’s also not my favorite. This latest entry leans towards the good side of his filmography. It’s most similar to Signs in that it has compelling thematic undertones beneath the surface of being a horror movie. For example, if Signs is really about broken faith and a priest trying to restore his beliefs, then Knock at the Cabin is about pure love centred around a gay couple and their adopted daughter. I can confidently say M. Night Shyamalan continues to flourish in this current career renaissance with this unique LGBTQ+ horror due in large part by the intriguing way he grips the viewer with tension and how he presents his allegories. That alone makes all his recent movies, starting with Split worth a watch. I think he is a master at subverting audience expectations, and he displays his expertise once again by shining new light on the tired cabin in the woods trope. It’s Signs meets Straw Dogs meets Knowing.

Knock at the Cabin - Still
(Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Knock at the Cabin is based on the book “The Cabin at the End of the World” by Paul. G Tremblay. The story follows two fathers and their adopted daughter who have been taken hostage by four strangers during their vacation in an isolated cabin. These home invaders force the family to make an impossible choice in order to stop the apocalypse. Their choice is to either save their family or humanity. This plot is instantly engaging, forcing the audience to question what to believe and stay curious enough to see how it would all play out. 

By far, it’s Shyamalan’s darkest movie as he explores the terror of choice with the classic moral debate, would you kill one person to save many? However you choose to answer that, whether it be from a utilitarian approach (killing a person to save more lives to produce the greatest good for the greatest number) or a deontologist approach (not killing because actions are good or bad according to a set of rules regardless of the greater welfare), I believe Shyamalan is just showcasing the horror of someone believing they have no choice in what they’re doing or what they are about to do. The uncertainty of life from all perspectives of the characters in this cabin crafts an emotional and claustrophobic experience.

(Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The parents are played by Ben Aldridge and Jonathan Groff, Kristen Cui plays their daughter, and the strangers are played by Dave Bautista, Rupert Grint, Abby Quinn, and Nikki Amuka-Bird. Cui is another example of a gifted child actor starring in a Shyamalan movie. All the performances from this ensemble help establish the manic atmosphere. As a viewer, it’s interesting because you’re questioning whether these strangers have a psychological breakdown or if their extreme beliefs are based on something real. “Can you believe in something greater than yourself?” The decision made at the end is Shyamalan’s answer to the question of whether you believe in a higher power or not. Bautista is unsettling in the role because he’s extremely convincing as the character and portraying his unwavering belief. This is another example on his résumé as to why he’s in the lead for best wrestler turned actor. 

As I mentioned before, the movie is like Signs, but with love as the central theme. Where it falls behind Signs is the inconsistent tension throughout due to the mechanical-sounding dialogue and the placement of flashbacks sprinkled throughout. There’s also an obligatory M. Night cameo, of course, which doesn’t help maintain the severity of the situation. It also felt underwhelming, considering the twists didn’t feel shocking in the end.

In conclusion, Shyamalan’s religious undertones appear thematically, narratively, and visually here. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” from Christian scripture comes to mind as it relates to moral intuition and sacrifice in the movie. I choose to believe our choices judge us. Our choices can either help or bring harm to others, which defines right and wrong. We all have a choice to be empathetic, and we’re all capable of loving. Maybe that is the enlightening belief in something greater than ourselves that Shyamalan wants us to take away from the Knock at the Cabin. If that’s the case, then the path to true salvation is acting out of pure love and selflessness because that can save someone’s world.

Rating: 8/10

Knock at the Cabin opens in theatres on February 3.

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