Knock at the Cabin (2023)
Knock at the Cabin (2023)

Genre: Horror and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.

Release Date: February 3rd, 2023 MPAA Rating: R

Director: M. Night Shyamalan Actors: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint, Kristen Cui

 


 

W

hen eight-year-old Wen (Kristen Cui) and her parents Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) arrive in Pennsylvania at the idyllic cabin in the woods they’ve rented, their plans for a peaceful vacation begin taking shape. But rest and relaxation quickly turn to shock and horror when four unexpected visitors approach the cabin with makeshift weapons, insisting they be let in. The soft-spoken, hulking, second-grade teacher Leonard Brocht (Dave Bautista) leads the pack of invaders, which also includes nervous nurse Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), irritable utilities worker Redmond (Rupert Grint), and fidgety line cook Adriane (Abby Quinn). And once the intruders recount a bizarre tale of alarming omens before revealing their demands, the hostages realize the gravity of the nightmare unfolding before them.

“I’m here to be your friend.” Wasting no time whatsoever, the film kicks off with an uncomfortable introduction, located in the middle of the forest where the titular cabin resides. This early sequence boasts extremely invasive close-ups and the sense that something terrible is about to happen, made more maddening by the expertly-cast Bautista – a man who features an intimidating figure, yet does his best to appear curiously personable rather than monstrous. It’s a great contrast, and just one of many casting decisions that prove fitting; if nothing else, the performances here are impressive.

As if harbingers of doom (or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse), the strange travelers incite panic and chills. A thunderous horror movie score, complete with gut-wrenching sound effects and nerve-jangling musical cues, also adds to the mood, setting the stage for immediate discomfort, not unlike the opening moments of “Funny Games.” It’s a considerably lengthy cold open, especially since the narrative structure eventually cuts back to a few earlier scenes, some of which fill in background details, while others establish duller elements – such as the family’s entrance onto the property. The flashbacks tend to grow more unwanted as the film progresses, often serving the sole purpose of interrupting a gripping interaction. A few are relevant to the parents’ understandable distrust and feelings of targeted persecution (retaining one of the best ingredients from the source material), but many are staged specifically to allow viewers to breath a sigh of relief from the harrowing hostage scenario at play. “We’re a little pressed for time.”

It grows lightly aggravating the longer answers are kept from the audience, while the ultimate revelations are entirely unconvincing – not just in the deliberate illogicality of it all, but also in the lack of proof (and the irritating dubiousness of the proof) for such an outlandish premise. “This is psychotic! It’s delusional!” Part of the point is to harbor a distinct ambiguity, to stretch out the anxiety of pondering the home invasion components and the seemingly supernatural complications; yet the wilder the story becomes, the less persuasive it is with its ritualistic rules and the severity and damnability of the unshakable faith on display. This concept would feel more at home as a “Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror” episode, since the format of a feature film demands a certain structuring to tell a complete tale, whereas the aforementioned properties allow for minimal setup and an already established suspension of disbelief. The world here is entirely too big for this allegorical take on a biblical notion; had the horrors been constrained to an isolated community, with the neighbors assuming the roles of the victims of deific judgment, the believability – and scares – might have been more engrossing.

Nevertheless, “Knock at the Cabin” is a competent little exercise in tension. It’s weird, traumatic, and violent, borrowing ideas from “Knowing,” “10 Cloverfield Lane,” and “The Mist” as it explores thought-provoking themes of destruction, salvation, and sacrifice. So much more could have been done if writer/director M. Night Shyamalan (working with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman to adapt the book by Paul Tremblay) was willing to shape the story into a more intimate, toothier vision (perhaps closer to the novel), but the end result is still splendidly acted and thoroughly thrilling. “There’s always a choice!”

– The Massie Twins

  • 6/10