Knock at the Cabin Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
M. Night Shyamalan is known to be a wild card by now… You never know what you obtain. Interestingly enough, his latest feature is simply “O.K.”
Genre: Horror / Mystery / Thriller
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldrige, Kristen Cui, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Rupert Grint, Abby Quinn, McKenna Kerrigan & Ian Merrill Peakes.
Run Time: 100 min.
US Release: 03 February 2023
UK Release: 03 February 2023
German Release: 09 February 2023
When it comes to director M. Night Shyamalan, I am lately entering the screening room with caution because his work has been very hit or miss since The Village. His last feature Old, based on the French-language swiss graphic novel, was an absolute travesty. This means, once the first trailer hit the web I immediately googled the background for the regisseur’s newest premise. Unsurprisingly, Knock at the Cabin is based on a literary story, written by American writer Paul Tremblay. The trailers looked promising, especially the short impression given by Dave Bautista. Having said that, it also spoils the complete plot!
Wen, a seven-year-old girl, is vacationing together with her two dads at a remote cabin. She is approached by a hulking man, disrupting the family’s peaceful retreat, who find themselves trapped as the giant, together with three more armed strangers, holds the family hostage. What they tell them next sounds incredible.
As stated in my opening paragraph, Shyamalan’ screenplay is an adaptation of author Paul Tremblay’s horror novel “The Cabin at the End of the World”. The basics of the novel’s premise are kept intact, however, the ending has been changed for the worse, to appeal to a bigger mass audience. Though the book did not make waves among the public, it took bold decisions that paid off, especially when it came to the end! The biggest surprise came in the lack of major twists, which the director is known to implement.
Straight out of the bat, this is not another dumpster fire by the regisseur. Surprisingly, it is a fine, acceptable flick that makes questionable decisions at times. It integrates relevant social commentary on the divide of same-sex relationships and thought bubbles around internet chat room groups, which is largely well handled. The engaging hook point of the plot is the mystery concept; a guessing game of who is right, as rational thinking opposes a faith-based belief. This collision of mindsets is what builds the intrigue.
This is a very straightforward story with barely any side arcs, an aspect I would normally praise since I don’t believe that plots need to be always complicated constructs. Unfortunately, in this case, it is an issue because what is shown in the trailer is basically the whole narrative, stretched to 100 minutes. This leads to some pretty severe pacing issues, with parts of the screenplay slowing down to a near halt.
Finally, this is less of a horror movie than it is a socio-religious mystery thriller. So don’t walk in expecting blood, or even gore. Yes, there are the occasional death scenes, though they are mostly taking place off-screen.
Character-wise there is a lot to unpack. For one, the four intruders are meant to represent the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, with a slightly unexpected surprise. Then there is the gay couple, with their adoptive daughter, who is thrown into the middle of this insane situation, of course feeling like they are being targeted for being who they are. Nevertheless, it is only two characters from those rivalling factions, who are truly explored
First up is Dave Bautista, who is the film's definite lead! Bautista brings his tattoo-covered, imposing physicality, contrasting it with a soft personality. Leonard is the alpha of this group of perpetrators, but he is also a very sensitive person, empathetic and patient. The actor balances those two different characteristics well, especially when considering that his persona in the book is much younger. Simply said, he is brilliant!
Andrew, who is played by Ben Aldrige, is the father of Wen plus Eric’s partner, who is portrayed by a fantastic Jonathan Groff. As the second character who is fleshed out, Andrew’s past conflicts with homophobia, give an understanding as to why he sets out to disbelieve the group's reasonings for what they do. That said, he also reflects the other side of the spectrum of toxic social behaviour. Aldrige gives a magnificent performance!
Rupert Grint’s casting is completely wasted! It is frustrating to figure out that his name was being used for marketing purposes, just for his character to make a short appearance at the beginning. He deserved more than the five minutes of screen time he obtained!
Cinematographically, Knock at the Cabin is a mixed bag, containing some of the director's trademarks he likes to overuse, such as tight framings, extreme close-ups and shallow depth of field. While all of these are used at one point in time correctly, it is largely more distracting than productive. The editing adds to the script's pacing issues, stretching out unimportant moments. The use of lens flares, on the other hand, is used metaphorically for Eric’s concussion, with the colour palette being visually pleasing.
The set design looks practical, taking place for most of its runtime inside the cabin or the surrounding forest. As such, the effects seem to be mostly practical. However, the few computer effects used look staggeringly bad in quality!
The score by Herdis Stefánsdóttir, is menacing, building suspense to an unsatisfying end. The use of percussion in combination with brass sounds creates a jolting effect.
Verdict: M. Night Shyamalan's new mystery feature is very mediocre, but has enough good aspects to keep it slightly above the middle part of the scala. I like how timely his screenplay is, picking up on important social constructs that are under discussion right now. The mythical aspects rival factual thinking, fabricating a fascinating guessing game of who to trust, or believe. While I commend the straightforward narrative, the substance is so simple that it would have benefited from further character exploration. As it stands, the thin story is stretched to excruciating 100 minutes. Camerawork plus editing is hit-and-miss, overusing extreme close-ups and shallow depth of field to a fault. Nonetheless, the use of specific angles, as well as the colour palette complements the movie. Knock at the Cabin is not the director's worst, it is also not his best. It’s a 6.0 out of 10.