By Stephen Aspeling16 November 2023
Knock at the Cabin: Dave Bautista and M Night Shyamalan? Yes, really
It’s the end of the world as we know it. If anything, the last few years have proven that no one can anticipate the future and that life really is what happens to you while you’re making other plans. For visionary filmmaker M Night Shyamalan, it may have seemed like the end of the world after the writer-director struggled to match the runaway success of critically acclaimed thriller The Sixth Sense. While promising as standalone features, his follow-ups in Unbreakable, Signs and The Village paled in comparison with the film that set the bar for film twists. Laden with potential, burdened with expectation and unable to reclaim his former glory after a series of dwindling efforts, it appeared that Shyamalan’s creative force was spent… making him a Hollywood has-been.
A lifelong fan of the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, it’s as if Shyamalan had to fall from grace and rewind to old school basics again. Known for suspense, after landing one of the biggest film twists in The Sixth Sense, he’s also known for taking risks with larger-than-life film concepts that threaten to stretch the bounds of our collective imagination to breaking point.
Having built his career on spoof-worthy movies that still echo through pop culture, it’s fitting that his return to form had a comedic slant. Knock at the Cabin also recalls Little Red Riding Hood, but it was The Visit that first took a page from this fairy tale with a documentary style visit to grandma’s house. Dialling back the blockbuster-sized budget from projects that cost $150m to $5m was just the tonic Shyamalan needed to reset his inspiration, return to fundamentals and create a horror with dimension and bite. Since then he hasn’t looked back, racking up Split, Glass, Old and now Knock at the Cabin.
As if the scope of his films couldn’t get any bigger, his latest psychological horror thriller deals with the apocalypse. Based on the 2018 novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G Tremblay, this Shyamalan flick grapples with what appears to be a world-ending event. Pitting four uninvited guests against a small family of holiday-makers, what first appears to be a hate-fuelled home invasion escalates beyond the confines of the cabin as the fog lifts to reveal a deadlock. Taken hostage, the family’s reluctance to believe their fervent visitors and make an unthinkable sacrifice in a bid to save the world devolves into a grisly standoff.
This see-sawing apocalyptic horror and psychological thriller stars Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff and Rupert Grint. Best known for his action roles after having crossed the Rubicon from wrestling to acting, this isn’t the first time Bautista has demonstrated his dramatic ability. The leader of the zealots, his glasses and white short sleeve collared shirt reveals his extensive arm tattoos, making Leonard seem like a prison pastor. Yet, as intimidating as his physique and size makes him, the purity of his conviction suggests his intentions are noble. He makes a strong contrast with the cantankerous Grint in an uncharacteristic yet welcome supporting role as Redmond. Facing off against Andrew and Eric, a gay couple who have adopted young Wen, Kristen Cui’s fine debut performance will draw some parallels with Haley Joel Osment’s breakthrough.
Centred on a cabin in the woods, the apocalyptic horror branches out by way of flashbacks and news reports. Drawing us closer to the modern family, the snippets from their lives help us discover a new sense of intimacy with the would-be victims before their holiday turns into a nightmare. Mistakenly thought to be Jehovah’s Witnesses, the sheer conviction of the new arrivals finds the family frightened by their doomsday cult behaviour, unwilling to participate in the apparent ravings of lunatics. This mysterious tension drives the suspense of Knock at the Cabin as the drama tilts between real and perceived, altruism and prejudice as well as truth and misconception.
Under Shyamalan’s direction, the story takes dramatic licence, venturing off the beaten track when it comes to adapting Tremblay’s novel. A twist to the book’s ending, the novelty and promise of a world-altering event taking place at a remote location does have echoes from other horror movies. Taking the classic horror setting of The Evil Dead, recruiting the home invasion dynamic of The Strangers and incorporating Saw’s grisly do-or-die scenario, Knock at the Cabin seems to have several effective horror mechanics working in unison.
What makes this film captivating is its intense drama and slow-burning mystery as the power dynamics shift in an unorthodox hostage situation. Knock at the Cabin swirls up a storm in a tin cup by leaning on cult-like fervour, tipping into doomsday prophecies, upending the concept of a home invasion and leveraging its edgy and timely predicament. Another solid horror for M Night Shyamalan, Knock at the Cabin shows the filmmaker has found a comfortable niche, remains inspired by the genre and is demonstrating bankability and reliability.
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