Review | Knock at the Cabin | 2023

Leonard (Dave Bautista), Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird) in Knock at the Cabin, directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

The career of M. Night Shyamalan has been a fascinating one to follow. Once named Hollywood's new golden child after the success of The Sixth Sense (1999), Shyamalan  soon became synonymous with twist endings that left audiences increasingly disappointed. Despite the box office success of Signs (2002) and The Village (2004), by the time we reached Lady in the Water (2006) and The Happening (2008), audiences had seemingly had enough. And after a pair of big budget sci-fi/fantasy flops in The Last Airbedner (2010) and After Earth (2013), it seemed that Shyamalan's name had become box office poison.

So the filmmaker reinvented himself, returning in 2015 with the low budget, found footage thriller The Visit, adopting a B-movie aesthetic that eschewed his trademark twist endings for tightly controlled, lower budget, high concept thrillers. The result has been reinvigorated filmmaker, seemingly liberated from the expectations of surprise endings, able to explore the themes that interest him in a more honest and thoughtful way. Indeed, some of his most interesting work has been in this late period renaissance. 

His latest film, Knock at the Cabin, is a rare Shyamalan film that isn't an original work, adapted from the novel "The Cabin at the End of the World" by Paul Tremblay. The story centers around a family on vacation at a secluded cabin who are confronted by four armed strangers and told that if they do not choose one of them to die, the world will end. Are they simply religious zealots driven by a shared delusion? Or are they truly the harbingers of the apocalypse that they claim to be? As the clock ticks closer to doomsday, impossible decisions must be made as the two men and their daughter struggle to come to terms with the intruder's outlandish tale, and their dogmatic certainty that they are there to save humanity.

It's ultimately a film that asks how much you'd be willing to sacrifice to save the world - and some of Shyamalan's favorite themes of faith and family are front and center. There are few contemporary filmmakers that have such a formal mastery of classical Hollywood style, and Shyamalan deserves to be regarded in the same pantheon as Spielberg for his instinctual knowledge of how to move a camera and how to create suspense, even in a claustrophobic one-room setting. Knock at the Cabin showcases some of Shyamalan's strongest late-period work. His greatest weakness as a filmmaker has always been his writing, but here the characters are strongly developed and given full lives of their own, allowing us to identify with both the besieged family and their desperate kidnappers. 

The film is undercut, however, by its overly expository ending, which removes any ambiguity from the story and ties a neat little bow on an otherwise uneasy and conflicted film. By revealing whether or not the zealots are "right," Shyamalan resolves the main conflict in a way that isn't particularly satisfying and will likely divide viewers. Knock at the Cabin is a tentative return to Signs-era form for Shyamalan, but it stops just short of being great by spelling itself out a little too neatly for its themes to truly resonate.

GRADE - ★★½ (out of four)

KNOCK AT THE CABIN | Directed by M. Night Shyamalan | Stars Dave Bautista, Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Kristen Cui, Nikki Amuka-Bird | Rated R for violence and language | Now playing in theaters everywhere.


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