M. Night Shyamalan has long been the brunt of many a blanket statement like, “one-hit wonder” and “overly reliant on the twist”, the filmmaker is very aware of his “crutch” and going into any of his films there is a certain expectation, and Night knows it. There has been subversion like in The Village, a return to when it worked the best in The Visit and Split. His most recent effort, OLD was another solid entry, highlighting both his stellar filmmaking and his ever-present knack for tension-filled nightmare scenarios.
Knock at the Cabin brings the tension to a whole new level, grabbing you in the first 45 seconds and It doesn’t let go as it’s reaching for your throat. Based on the novel by Paul G. Tremblay, the film follows a family, a young daughter named Wen (Kristen Cui) and her dads Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) who are on vacation at a secluded cabin by a lake. In the very first scene, Wen is confronted by Leonard (an outstanding Dave Bautista) who is on a mission of Biblical proportions, joined by three other harbingers of the apocalypse, Redmond (Rupert Grint), Adriane (Abby Quinn), and Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird). Their mission, stop the end of the world by convincing the family they now hold captive that one of them must die.
It’s a master class in tension with every new revelation bringing an emotional toll that never lets up. It’s Shyamalan at his best, It’s the best parts of The Happening without the need to shock us and it’s the best parts of Signs without having to show us. Where those films really hammered their respective themes home, Knock at the Cabin allows the themes to naturally make themselves known without the script taking leaps.
His visual style is perfectly matched for this story, it’s emotional and visceral, putting us right into the faces of both the family members and their captors. When violence comes, and it comes frequently, he shows his restraint by not showing us everything, this ramps up the tension while also keeping the focus on the story. It’s an intensely personal film in that it shows humanity at its worse and at its best, showing flashbacks to the father’s struggles dealing with hatred and bigotry, and their road to adopting their daughter Wen.
It takes modern-day prejudice and hatred and spins it in a way only Shyamalan can, with a Biblical apocalypse as the backdrop. He plays the dynamic between the two groups with sincerity and honesty. There are times when you identify and side with both groups, flip-flopping your allegiance and pitting you against your own hangups and expectations. Shyamalan is a filmmaker not afraid to make big swings, which means that there may be a few strikeouts, but when the hits come, they are powerful and memorable. Don’t call it a comeback, Shyamalan has always been here giving us thoughtful and intense stories. Notes of De Palma and Hitchcock, his situational confrontations are all story driven and impossible not to watch.
Casting Bautista in the lead is one of the best thing this film has going for it, in a cast that all give great performances, Bautista stands above the rest. His delivery suits Shyamalan’s dialogue well and this is a great showcase for more leading roles. Fans of Shyamalan will be happy and those who remain skeptical will be treated to a well-directed, well-acted thriller with heart.
4 out of 5