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KNOCK 'EM DEAD
Knock at the Cabin (15)
Director: M Night. Shyamalan
Screenplay: M Night. Shyamalan, Steve Desmond, Michael Sherman
Starring: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Rupert Grint
Review: RJ Bland
As Forrest Gump once said, 'M. Night Shyamalan movies are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get'. Or something similar. But instead of it being a box of JUST delicious chocolates, this one is spiked with a few duds. You may pluck out a lovely fondant or caramel (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable). But you might also choose one that looks like a chocolate, but is in fact, a little tiny turd (After Earth, The Lady in the Water). He's a film-maker that burst onto the scene with huge promise in the late 90s, but who sort of lost his way over the years. He's undoubtedly an excellent director, but sometimes the scripts he's working with (which he pretty much always writes himself!) let him down. Fortunately he has had a bit of a renaissance over the last few years. The Visit (2015) and Split (2016) both did well with critics and general audiences and whilst Old (2021) wasn't perfect, it still offered some off-the wall entertainment. What Shyamalan hasn't done before is an adaptation and whilst they are never an easy thing to pull off at the best of times, he sort of threw himself in at the deep end with his latest feature, Knock at the Cabin – based on the critically acclaimed novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay.
Seven-year old Wen is on holiday with her parents, Eric and Andrew, in a remote cabin in rural Pennsylvania. Whilst her parents are enjoying a lazy morning, Wen is out in the woods opposite the cabin catching grasshoppers. But she's not alone. A smartly dressed but huge hulking dude (Dave Bautista) appears and approaches Wen. Although she's initially wary, the man introduces himself as Leonard and engages with her in a way that puts her at ease. When she asks him what he's doing in the woods, he says that he is there to save the world but that he needs the help of Wen and her parents to do so. This causes more curiosity than alarm but when Wen spots three more people deeper in the woods approaching (and who appear to be armed) she makes a run for it, back to the cabin, back to her parents. She tries to tell them what has happened but before they have a chance to decide on what to do next, there is a knock at the cabin door. Leonard is there with his three friends. He asks Eric and Andrew to let them in because they need their help. However, they don't need help changing a tyre. And they don't want to use their phone. No, the kind of assistance they require has much higher stakes than that...
Knock at the Cabin starts out with a lot of early promise. The beautiful cinematography and lush aesthetic almost lulls you into a false sense of security. But there is a slow and steady sense of menace that is introduced within the first few minutes and the script plays with the possibilities of this for a good half and hour or so. Shyamalan features are never truly out and out horror movies and he doesn't break that trend here. However there is enough sense of mystery and threat in the first act to leave you wondering just how dark it may go. Once Knock at the Cabin shows its hand and we learn why these four strangers have shown up unannounced and what their proposition is, the film begins to lose some of its magic. The reveal is intriguing enough and poses some interesting philosophical questions for our hapless family (and us the audience) and there are a couple of initial shocks that work well. The problem is that it all becomes a little repetitive quite quickly. The claustrophobia of the cabin that was so effective in the first act eventually turns into over familiarity with our setting and situation. The story's focus on this group of characters in one location is admirably intimate. Especially when what is going on inside the building is having a huge impact on things on the outside. However, the tension is largely wrung out of the plot by the midpoint and it starts to feel like we're treading water after that. A sense of inevitability soon creeps in and by the denouement, it's not entirely clear how we're really supposed to be feeling or what we're meant to take away from all this. Fans of the book wondered how Shyamalan would deal with the rather bold conclusion. The answer is, that he changes it quite drastically but not necessarily for the better.
What makes all of this doubly disappointing is that there are elements that are really strong. The film looks great and the cast are excellent across the board, although it's perhaps Dave Bautista's engrossing turn that will catch the eye the most. He's a lot more than Drax the Destroyer. Knock at the Cabin will definitely have its admirers, this isn't a bad movie by any stretch. Just rather underwhelming by the end. File it away somewhere between Old (2021) and Glass.(2019)
Despite a fascinating setup and some fine central performances, Knock at the Cabin ultimately fails to deliver the goods. And might be the first Shyamalan film to feel a little bit...predictable.
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