Never has a director caused so much trepidation with the release of a new film. In the late 90s and early 00s, M. Night Shyamalan was an unstoppable force, grabbing headlines and box-office takings with smash-hits like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs.
Fast forward to the late 00s, and this rising star’s shine was fading somewhat. With poorly reviewed films like The Happening, After Earth and The Last Airbender, audience confidence in Shyamalan was waning.
Thankfully, the director found somewhat of a resurgence with 2016’s Split – mainly down to a fantastic performance from leading man, James McAvoy, but cinema-goers were brought straight back down to earth with the lacklustre sequel Glass.
Fast forward to 2023 and he’s back with Knock at the Cabin, based on the novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay, with a cast that includes Dave Bautista, Rupert Grint and Jonathan Groff. But is it any good?
While vacationing at a remote cabin in the woods, a young girl Wen (Kristen Cui) and her parents Eric and Andrew (Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge) are taken hostage by four armed strangers (Dave Bautista, Rupert Grint, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Abby Quinn) who demand they make an unthinkable choice to avert the apocalypse. Confused, scared and with limited access to the outside world, the family must decide what they believe before all is lost.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out the way. This is way, way better than anything Shyamalan has put out since Split. Tense, taut and well-paced, Knock at the Cabin is a fully realised thriller that utilises its remote setting very well.
The plot rarely moves away from the woodland cabin, with clever camera panning from cinematographers Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer that adds a fluidity not normally seen in the genre. There are also beautiful close-up shots of each of the characters, highlighting the anguish and fear on their faces.
When the focus does move away from the distant location, it’s for well-timed flashbacks to Eric and Andrew’s memories that are a nice way to add exposition and feel for these characters in a way that is usually lacking from these types of films.
The cast is definitely the film’s strongest suit – we spend the entire 100 minute runtime with just seven characters, with no change in setting to liven things up. Thankfully, that shift isn’t needed.
Bautista in particular is absolutely fantastic, and shows that he definitely has the acting prowess to move away from his role in the MCU.
Newcomer Kristen Cui is also sublime as youngster Wen. From her initial befriending of Bautista’s Leonard in a gorgeous flower meadow that utilises the natural light filtering through the tree canopy, to the terror that follows – her acting is wonderful.
And then there is the use of Groff and Aldridge, both members of the LGBT community. It’s fantastic to see a mainstream film not only showcasing same-sex relationships as a normal part of life, but casting gay actors in the roles is a real plus. Shyamalan should be applauded for this. Both actors give committed and balanced performances, which makes their relationship feel even more believable.
Overall, Knock at the Cabin is a nicely shot and tense thriller that relies heavily on its fantastic cast. A slow burner with little in the way of “action”, it follows all those good Shyamalan tropes, and makes us remember why he was such a promising director when The Sixth Sense shocked audiences in 1999.
Is Knock at the Cabin based on a book?
Knock at the Cabin is based on the novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay. The book was released in 2018, and received positive reviews from critics and readers.