It seems that after a career spent flipping expectations and diligent rug pulling, the biggest, most unpredictable twist M. Night Shyamalan ever managed to pull off is the one where his movies became utterly incapable of guaranteeing a consistent quality. Since the glory days of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and – deal with it – Signs, you could literally predict Shyamalan’s success rate with all the confidence of a coin toss as a string of frustrating flops and laughable failures where broken up with the occasional promise of a The Visit or a Split.
The last time the inconsistent auteur had a film out, it was Old, a movie that took a deeply interesting premise and promptly choked it to death with some of the clunkiest dialogue I’d heard in a long time – however, say what you will about Shyamalan, but the man’s resilient and he’s bounced back with Knock At The Cabin, another tense, high-concept thriller that could go either way when it comes to whether or not you’ll take it seriously.
Loving, same-sex couple Eric and Andrew are enjoying a vacation in rural Pennsylvania with their adopted, seven year-old daughter Wen, when their cabin is approached by the softly spoken Leonard, a truck-sized hulk of a man who politely introduces himself to the little girl while she’s out catching grasshoppers. However, the lingering threat of stranger danger immediately becomes infinitely more complex when this strange, yet genuinely humble seeming man is joined by three other companions from seemingly random backgrounds who all are holding homemade weapons. As Wen runs off to warn her dads, what seems to be a home invasion becomes something else entirely once the quartet has subdued the family and quietly explained their motivations for their actions as each of the four attackers seem just as nervous and terrified as their captives.
It seems that Leonard and his cohorts – nurse Sabrina, cook Adriane and ex-con Redmond – have all been cursed with visions of the end of the world and after getting in contact with one another thanks to the internet, believe that a divine calling has led them here to this cabin in order to ask Eric, Andrew and Wen to make an impossible choice: willingly sacrifice one of their own in order to stave off the coming apocalypse.
Initially Andrew is vehemently against this idea (understandable, really) while Eric struggles to shake off a concussion obtained in the initial struggle, but everytime they refuse to make the terrible choice, one of the four offer themselves up for a gruesome sacrifice. Is this some sort of disturbing group psychosis or is the world really on the verge on the of coming to an end – the news reports after every death suggest that the answer may not be that cut and dry…
The usual problem with M. Night Shyamalan movies are that sometimes his endings can’t hope to match up to the concepts he’s cooked up and be it killer plants, miserable super beings or a closed off community that pretends it’s a different century, sometimes his payoffs lead to as much unintentional laughter as it does genuine surprises.
Thankfully, the real twist here is that Knock At The Cabin not only manages to just about stay on the rails as it comes to its conclusion, but it’s an nicely tense thriller to boot, boosted by some strong performances.
Essentially a stripped back psycho thriller, Knock At The Cabin (adapted from Paul Tremblay’s novel, Cabin At The End Of The World) gives us a simple, if disturbing, premise and them proceeds to muddy the waters faster than a bathing hippo as it scrambles to blur the lines about whether our four antagonists are utterly out of their gourd or if the apocalypse is actually just around the corner. For most part it’s honestly gripping stuff that clearly lays the rules and then gets down to the business of ratcheting up the atmosphere as our protagonists desperately try to punch holes in the logic of their uninvited guests. The fact that our leads are a same sex couple means that Andrew (the more cynical of the two) can’t shake the idea that this is all just some elaborate hate crime which makes his mind all the more difficult to change – on the other hand, Leonard and his equally terrified looking band, seem way too rational and nervous to be doing such unspeakable things out of sheer malice. If we’re being honest, the build up is better than the punchline because, quite honestly, the journey in movies like these usually end up being far more satisfying than the destination, but to give Shyamalan his due, he sticks the landing better than he has in the past despite veering into the same, metaphysical territory he did when tying up his loose ends while wrapping up 2002’s Signs. Whether the admittedly overly-neat, credulity stretching ending will have you picking up the pieces of your blown mind out of your popcorn or simply rolling your eyes as you openly scoff, will most likely be down to your point of view rather than the director dropping the ball or scoring a touchdown, but considering how haphazard some of M. Night’s endings have been in the past, I’d have to consider Knock At The Cabin as one of his better ones.
Shyamalan’s direction and the way he utilises those long takes of his suits the story well, but it’s the performances you’ll remember the most with Dave Bautista’s soft spoken Leonard standing out the most. Busting out another somber, mournful performance much like the one he did in Blade Runner 2049, the ex-wrestler, thanks to his sterling ensemble work may very well be the best legitimate actor to ever step through the ropes of the squared circle and his bespectacled, inwardly gentle giant may actually be his crowning achievement to date. Elsewhere the cast is a similarly strong as Bautista’s impossible broad back with Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge (going full Eric Banna) and Kristen Cui all forming a tight, loving family unit and we even get Rupert Grint pop up as one of Leonard group who is noticably good enough for me not to rely on some cheap Harry Potter jibe just to sound smug.
Better than the majority of Shyamalan’s previous work, but still falling short of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, Knock At The Cabin may actually fall more victim to the director simply being cinematic Marmite to some members of the general public, but as a gripping, thoughtful thriller, Knock At The Cabin is definitely worth answering – and if you don’t like it? Well, it’s not the end of the world…