Movie Review: Knock At the Cabin

Since bursting into the public consciousness in 1999 with THE SIXTH SENSE, M. Night Shyamalan has arguably had more misses than hits in his career, yet the filmmaker remains an immensely popular storyteller with a loyal fan base. M. Night is back with a new film but this one, like so many of his others, has both audiences and critics divided.

Based on the 2018 novel “The Cabin at the End of the World” by Paul G. Tremblay, the curiously named KNOCK AT THE CABIN (shouldn’t it be KNOCK AT THE CABIN DOOR?) tells the story of a loving family who are having a peaceful vacation at their rental cabin in the woods when they are visited by four strangers who tie them up and tell them that they must sacrifice one of their own in order to avert the end of the world as we know it.

How many of us have seen people on the streets of big cities (especially on the west coast of the US, it seems) proclaiming that the apocalypse is about to come and we just roll our eyes and continue on? That’s pretty much the case for fathers Eric (Jonathan Groff, HAMILTON; TV’s MINDHUNTER) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge, TV’s PENNYWORTH), who are taken hostage along with their cute-as-a-button, seven-year-old daughter Wen (Kristen Cui). Neither of them finds the visitors’, led by the burly but soft-spoken Leonard (Dave Bautista, GLASS ONION) claim of impending doom very convincing, but as events both inside the cabin and out start to unfold, Eric begins to have a change of heart. What if the visitors are correct? And if they are, how do you kill someone you love and who should it be?

There’s a germ of an interesting story here but KNOCK AT THE CABIN seems underwritten for its 100-minute runtime. Once the premise is set up, it’s basically talk-decision-impact-repeat. There’s neither a lot of character development nor does the tension build as the stakes ratchet up. Shyamalan and his screenwriting team do dive into the lives of all the characters to give the audience some insight into their motivations but, at the end of the day (or time, in this case), we’re still left with four seemingly crazy people trying to convince two sane adults to kill someone they love.

Shyamalan is known and loved for his story twists that audiences didn’t see coming but here the twist, if you can call it that, would be visible from a Chinese spy balloon. When the lightbulb moment came at my screening, I said, much louder than I had expected I would, “Duh.” I also felt cheated by the film’s climax, which wasn’t as dramatic as it could have been. It didn’t satisfy me and I quickly concocted the way I would have liked to have seen the story play out. Later, when I read the book’s synopsis online, I saw that my version was almost the same as the author’s. So why did Shyamalan et al change the ending? Perhaps the studio execs wanted a happier, or less bleak, ending than what Tremblay had envisioned for his characters. If that was the case here, it was an unfortunate decision.

KNOCK AT THE CABIN is playing now in Hong Kong’s cinemas. It’s not a terrible film. It’s just not as good as it should have been.

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