M. Night Shyamalan’s “Knock at the Cabin” may not be what you expect it to be. That statement holds no positive or negative meaning, I simply want readers to enter into this movie with the right expectations. It is not a horror movie and there is no twist ending. Do not let trailers or Shyamalan’s reputation deceive you. “Knock at the Cabin” is a straightforward situtaional thriller that asks a single question of its characters and its audience. Is the world coming to an end?
A small family, vacationing in a cabin in the woods, is held hostage by four mild-mannered strangers who claim the world will end unless one member of the family is killed by the others. The film begins with Leonard (Dave Bautista), one of the hostage takers and the best character, approaching the family. It ends two days later with the situation resolved. It is a simple movie. Once the action picks up, they barely leave the cabin, and the seven characters introduced in the opening 10 minutes will remain the only characters of note in the whole movie.
Because of this simplicity, “Knock at the Cabin” relies on being relatable. If the audience cannot picture itself in this situation, trying to figure out whether these supposed prophets are lunatics or not, it wouldn’t be interesting. And, despite being directed by a man known for his bizarre characters and unnatural dialogue, the film largely stays grounded. Protagonists make reasonable decisions, any violence in the movie is mild, no performance comes off too hammy, and most importantly, by the middle of the movie, no one knows more than the audience. Neither hostage nor hostage taker knows how this situation is going to play out, and the sparks of belief or doubt expressed by them, keep you constantly questioning what is real.
The grounding of this movie ties into a frustration I had with it. “Knock at the Cabin” remains a mid to good-quality movie because it lacks flavor. The reason I am such a consistent fan and defender of Shyamalan’s movies is because they are always wacky. Premises are unique, big cinematographic decisions stick out, a few characters will always be off the wall. And he makes no apology for these features. This is why his movies are so hit or miss, even though I only like about three-quarters of them. Most mainstream directors, especially ones that specialize in horror, feel obligated to mask weirdness as artfulness, but not Shyamalan. “Knock at the Cabin” had no such wackiness.
The film is an adaptation of the 2018 book “The Cabin at the End of the World.” Thus, the movie was bound to differ from Shyamalan’s past works as he tends to be the sole writer of the projects he directs. With the exception of a few interesting action shots and a rewritten blunder of an ending, almost as bad as “The Mist,” there was little space for this movie to reach the same level of uniqueness as its predecessors.
Now I must bring up, in a paragraph riddled with spoilers, why I cannot stop complaining about this movie. A movie lacking some character is an issue, but one that can be overlooked for a good story. A poorly done ending in a film whose entire purpose is to hype you up for that ending, cannot be forgiven. In the last 20 minutes of “Knock at the Cabin” it becomes clear what is really going on. Because 700 planes fall from the sky. The big question mark of whether this is really the apocalypse, or just some elaborate prank, are whooshed away in an instant, because 700 planes fall from the sky. From this point on, it is obvious what the protagonists need to do, if they don’t kill a member of their family, everyone on Earth will die. So they do what is right and drive into the sunset while showing proof that everything the prophets said to them was true. Lamest way it could have ended and it wasn’t even taken from the book.
“Knock at the Cabin” may have plenty of flaws (that left me so frustrated because I really like defending Shyamalan) but it is worth watching despite this. It is thoroughly entertaining, keeps you guessing until the last 20 minutes, and tells an exciting story full of simple but compelling characters.