Movie Review: “Knock at the Cabin” has a killer premise and cast of interesting performers, but the story doesn’t live up to these wonderful pieces. M. Night Shyamalan’s latest work struggles to build tension and thrills, and the result is a mixed platter of ideas.
The master of genre is back. That’s right, M. Night Shyamalan’s “Knock at the Cabin” has finally hit theaters after much anticipation. I’ve been really looking forward to this one. Not just because Shyamalan has been one of the more infamous directors of the 21st century, but also because it kicks off a string of highly anticipated movies for the months of February and March.
The concept behind “Knock at the Cabin” is fairly simple, as many of Shyamalan’s movies are. A couple and their daughter are at a remote cabin when a set of strangers sets upon their location. It’s made known to them that they must choose a sacrifice from their own family to prevent the apocalypse. Despite the well-mannered and caring demeanors of the intruders, they insist that this sacrifice must be made in order to save the world.
Well, “Knock at the Cabin” is not nearly as tense and thrilling as this synopsis may sound, and the story seems to go in so many directions that it ultimately leads you nowhere. M. Night Shyamalan has taken a lot of criticism in the past for dialogue that sounds unnatural and corny, and while I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as some pundits make it out to be, it’s not good enough to carry a movie. “Knock at the Cabin” is surprisingly light on many of the action set pieces that make Shyamalan’s movies work and it relies dearly on plot and story.
Unfortunately, M. Night Shyamalan fails to deliver a plot and story that keeps engaged through and through. I liked *pieces* of what he was going for, but they don’t come together. It’s messy, and there are a lot of loose ends by the time the credits roll around. “Knock at the Cabin” feels like the ultimate swing for the fences hit – it’s deeper, headier and weightier, yet it isn’t being performed by a director or crew that generally fairs well with material like this.
And for many of Shyamalan’s best movies, the twists and reveals serve as real gut-punches. The small glimpses of aliens in “Signs” are remarkably spooky. The final plot twist in “The Sixth Sense” really brings that film home. Each aging sequence in “Old” has incidentally aged quite well. “Knock at the Cabin” lacks those sequences that really strike a nerve with you. There aren’t moments to hang your hat on. It comes and goes without much impact and the end result leaves you feeling empty.
It isn’t nearly as campy and dreadful as some of Shyamalan’s worst movies, but I did think about “The Happening” a few times during “Knock at the Cabin” – particularly for their goofy effects and takes on moral dilemmas. I wonder if “Knock at the Cabin” serves as a sort of do-over for former. They don’t necessarily have the same story to tell, but they both attempt to dissect epidemics in a world of those that are non-believers. Similar subject matter, but with different execution.
Many of the performances do their characters justice, even if the script doesn’t offer them more than just rambling nonsense. Dave Bautista turns in perhaps his best performance yet, although I’m not sure that means much. He’s way more empathetic and effecting than anything he’s been in before this. The other intruders, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, and Rupert Grint, all do their parts, even if those parts are miniscule as supporting characters.
Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge play the same-sex couple Eric and Andrew, respectively. Both are relatable and quite solid, although their personalities make them feel more like character types and less like real people. There’s a dichotomy to their world perspectives that live to offset one another. Eric represents hopefulness, while Andrew delivers his raw and unfiltered takes on the world. They begin to feel less like an actual couple as the film goes on, and that thread struggles to hold the movie together.
I would say Kristen Cui (as Wen) steals the show in “Knock at the Cabin.” I’ve always been hesitant about child acting, mostly because it isn’t very good or necessary a majority of the time, but she really nails her role. She’s the most believable and likable part of the movie, and the real glimmer of light when she’s given the car keys to perform.
Beyond that, “Knock at the Cabin” is just a really messy film. As you watch, it becomes unsure what details matter, what we’ll return to, and what each character relationship is truly like. Flashbacks cut what little tension it tries to build, and the ending doesn’t deliver the explanation that leaves you satisfied. I was a bit surprised that when you finally get the reveal, perhaps the biggest twist is that M. Night Shyamalan plays it straight the entire time.
“Knock at the Cabin” also suffers from a severe case of bad trailer-itis. Man, this trailer gave away too much. As someone who goes to movies quite frequently (I know, shocker), nearly every screening had a trailer for “Knock at the Cabin” beforehand. It was unavoidable. I had sequences of this movie seared into my brain before it even came out. And those sequences aren’t minimal, either. They give away major plot details late into the movie itself. A real blunder by the studio, but I suppose they had to come up with something to bring audiences in given “Knock at the Cabin” is light on long action pieces and heavy on dialogue.
I want to avoid being too harsh on “Knock at the Cabin” before I see it again. There’s always a chance that it grows on me the same way “Old” or “The Village” did, but right now I feel a bit let down by what Shyamalan came through with here. A few solid performances and thematic elements keep it from being a total misfire, but there’s little here that really blows me away. As the kids say, it’s mid.