‘Knock at the Cabin’ movie review: The end is nigh – or is it? – in intense Shyamalan thriller

A group of disparate strangers hold a family hostage in order to save the world in Knock at the Cabin, the latest thriller from director M. Night Shyamalan that opens in Prague cinemas from February 2. Tense and thought-provoking, and bolstered by a commanding central performance by Dave Bautista, this Twilight Zone riff writ large is a real nail-biter.

Knock at the Cabin stars Bautista as Leonard, who creeps up on eight-year-old Wen (Kristen Cui) in the wilderness of Pennsylvania out catching grasshoppers in the film’s opening scene. Bautista’s hulking presence compared to the young girl creates some immediate tension, and invites comparison to the scene of Frankenstein’s monster and the little girl by the lake in the 1930 Universal classic.

The threat becomes amplified as Leonard’s companions make their way out of the woods: gas worker Redmond (Rupert Grint), line cook Adriane (Abby Quinn), and nurse Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird) come carrying makeshift weapons, and chase young Wen back into her parent’s resort cabin.

Those parents are fathers Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), and they soon hear the titular knock at the cabin’s front door. Leonard wants to talk to them about something, but doesn’t have time to explain exactly what, and in short order the home is invaded and Eric and Andrew are tied to chairs.

After the family is subdued, the strangers explain their presence and the crux of Knock at the Cabin’s plot. The world will end tomorrow… or so they believe, based on shared visions of global catastrophes. They have just a day to convince Eric and Andrew to save it by making a sacrifice and killing one of the members of their family.

The quartet will not harm the family; the decision to sacrifice one of their own must come from themselves. And as Eric and Andrew watch catastrophic events play out over the television, they begin to wonder if there could be some truth in what the invaders are telling them.

There’s a few different ways Knock at the Cabin play out: will the world really end if a sacrifice isn’t made? Are the strangers, who met on an online message board, suffering from some kind of group psychosis? Or is something more sinister afoot — along with the revelation that one of these strangers isn’t really a stranger to the family after all?

The ultimate resolution to Knock at the Cabin is, perhaps, the least satisfying of any of them. But Shyamalan has reached the point where when twists are expected, the ordinary becomes a surprise; whether that kind of subversion works will be down to the individual viewer.

Knock at the Cabin gives us frequent flashbacks to Eric and Andrew’s relationship over the years, and the central premise serves as an allegory for their lives: as a gay couple and non-standard family unit, they must make significant sacrifices in order to maintain the lifestyle most others take for granted.

That’s deeper thematic material than your average Shyamalan thriller allows, and perhaps gets lost within the film’s climactic revelations. Until Knock at the Cabin’s final scenes, however, this is an intense but unexpectedly thoughtful affair. Groff, especially, gives the film some emotional heft, while Bautista is fascinating as the intimidating yet strangely sympathetic home invader.

Mixing themes from the apocalyptic and underrated Nicolas Cage thriller Knowing with the central premise in The Killing of a Sacred DeerKnock at the Cabin is riveting for most of the running time, and carefully crafted by a master of suspense.

Knock at the Cabin may leave audiences expecting a Sixth Sense level twist from the director feeling unsatisfied, but those who take the premise at face value will find plenty to like here. This gripping thriller joins M3GAN as an early genre gem to kick off 2023.

 

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