Published on February 4th, 2023 | by Harris Dang
Knock at the Cabin – Film Review
Reviewed by Harris Dang on the 2nd of February 2023
Universal Pictures presents a film by M. Night Shayamalan
Produced by Marc Bienstock, Ashwin Rajan, and M. Night Shyamalan
Written by M. Night Shyamalan, Steve Desmond, Michael Sherman (based on the book ‘The Cabin at the End of the World’ by Paul Tremblay)
Starring Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Kristen Cui, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, and Rupert Grint
Edited by Noemi Katharina Preiswerk
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: the 2nd of February 2023
Knock at the Cabin tells the story of a family of three, Andrew (Ben Aldridge), Eric (Jonathan Groff), and their adopted daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui). The three set off on a family trip down to a cabin in the woods for a fun time. However, things take a wild turn for the worst when four strangers, Leonard, Sabrina, Adriane, and Redmond (Dave Bautista, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, and Rupert Grint) arrive outside their cabin and strangely greet the family by asking if they can come in. Like many that would react, Andrew takes it as a sign of danger and tries calling the police.
The group breaks in by force and take the family hostage. While Andrew, Eric, and Wen procrastinate over what the intruders’ intentions, Leonard makes a peculiar yet stern demand to the family: they must sacrifice one of their own to avert the upcoming apocalypse. As tensions arise, events around the world begin to occur that signal that perhaps the intruders are onto something. The thought plants seeds of doubts into the sceptical minds of the family.
Knock at the Cabin is the latest film from M. Night Shyamalan, the renowned genre filmmaker who specialises in potboilers with mystery box narratives, including The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002), and many others. He is currently on a winning streak ever since his career slump that started after 2004’s The Village (which has gone on to acquire a positive reception, retrospectively). Does his latest film continue the streak?
Let’s start off with the negatives. As with a lot of films by Shyamalan, the screenplay (which he rewrote from a draft written by Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman) is overly expository and quite patronising towards its audience. When characters are introduced, they literally present themselves to the camera and verbally reveal their backstory.
While it makes sense that the story is set in the cabin as long as it does (although it has awkwardly placed flashbacks to Andrew and Eric’s backstory), the verbose screenplay hinders the pacing and makes the film drag. It also dulls the audience’s trust in making judgements for themselves, even as the film touches on thought-provoking topics such as faith, humanity, bigotry, and existentialism.
Thankfully, Shyamalan’s directorial eye is on point. With cinematographer Jarin Blaschke (best known for working with director Robert Eggers) in tow, Shyamalan makes the most out of his minute surroundings and the actors’ physicality to thrilling effect. By utilising God’s eye shots, point-of-view angles, and extreme close-ups of the actors’ faces, his compositions add credence to the narrative and aid the actors with their characterisations. His insistence in withholding the impacts of the inflicted violence pays off well as he relies on the sound design to convey the aftereffects. A powerfully haunting score by Icelandic composer Herdís Stefánsdóttir certainly helps add imposing doom to proceedings.
As for the cast, the ensemble of seven make the most out of their roles. Adelstein, Groff, and Cui share a believable camaraderie as each of them stand out individually. Adelstein convinces as the assertive father who lets his anger get the better of him, while Groff is effective as the taciturn father whose doubts and lack of initiative for himself keeps him guarded. Cui is fantastic as the curious Wen as she avoids falling into the same trap as many child actors: acting to the camera and upping the precocious levels to peak annoyance.
In the case of the intruders, Amuka-Bird conveys an alarming sense of sympathy within Sabrina, while Quinn capably utilises her naivety to hide her burdens within as Adriane, and Grint is appropriately brutish as the hot-tempered Redmond. However, the standout is Bautista as Leonard. He is able explore the many facets of his character (from his nurturing attitude to stern attentiveness to an almost blind devotion; all shrouded by doubt) with utmost dexterity that you are never quite sure of what to make of his nature and intentions.
Overall, Knock at the Cabin is another successful entry in the filmography by Shyamalan that transcends its flawed script thanks to a committed cast, a strong directorial eye, and well-sustained tension. Recommended.
Summary: Another successful entry in Shyamalan's filmography thanks to a committed cast, a strong directorial eye, and well-sustained tension.