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knock-trailer.jpg

Review 'Knock at the Cabin' Is Good but Must Reckon with its Source

By Lindsay Traves | Film | February 3, 2023 |

By Lindsay Traves | Film | February 3, 2023 |


knock-trailer.jpg

“Who’s there?” you might reply to the firm sound of a fist rapping on your door. If you’re modern, you might only do so after warily shrinking yourself and peeking out the windows from behind closed blinds. For Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldrigde), a knock is a sinister sound, especially as it succeeds their daughter’s panicked warnings of scary strangers outside. Wen (Kristin Cui) had earlier been curiously playing in the grass when she met Leonard (Dave Bautista), a large but gentle man who promised he wanted to become her friend. “I’ve got a gun,” Andrew shouts at the crowd knocking on their cabin door before he, Eric, and Wen are tackled, incapacitated, tied up, and at the whims of Leonard and his three colleagues.

The small family are told that these mysterious melee weapon-wielding visitors are here on an important mission to save the world. The world will end, all humanity perishing, cursing the three of them to walk the earth alone unless they decide on a sacrifice. To save humanity, they must choose one of the three of them to die and then carry out the deed. Naturally, the family doesn’t believe the radical doomsday clan who came closing in on their family vacation, so they spend their time desperately trying to escape while the group begs and commits ritualistic bloody acts. While the story keeps them in the cabin, flashbacks and newscasts are used to fill in details about the love the small family has for each other and the dreaded happenings in the world at large.

M. Night Shyamalan (who also directed) along with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman wrote the screenplay based on a book by Paul G. Tremblay. The book, The Cabin at the End of the World has the advantage of naming points of view and using internal monologue to portray the conflicted emotions and feelings of Andrew, Eric, and Wen. To bring it to screen, Shyamalan (along with DOPs, Jarin Blaschke who worked on Robert Eggers’ gorgeous flicks, and Lowell A. Meyer) used camera placement to take us into the minds of each character. In the opening, a low-sitting camera, and a scene engulfed in an ominous score (Herdís Stefánsdóttir’s changing music is impeccable here), introduce us to Wen and her perspective of the scary big fella who invades her space. Then, when she blasts into the back of the cabin to her relaxed fathers, the camera is higher, so is her voice, and the music denotes a more relaxed environment. Throughout, other cinematic strategies are used to put the audience into the minds of each character like intimate closeup shots or zeroing in on one character while the others are heard arguing and out of focus.

Of course, adapting this book comes with the adaptation of its ending. For those who’ve read the book and want to remain spoiler-free, I’ll do my best but it might be time to duck out. In what will surely be the divisive element of this movie, Shyamalan predictably added his flavor to this ending, weaving in the faith-based sensibilities we’re used to seeing from the man who made Signs. It’s an interesting study to wonder if changing the ending somehow denotes a misinterpretation or a cheapening of the themes of the source material or whether it stands up on its own as a different story. The third act is jarring, horrifying, and emotional in a way that left me to conclude that this story with its ending, though different from its inspiring text, is solid in its own right.

Knock at the Cabin is full of all the things we expect from the filmmaker who lives for newscast exposition (truly, that the book uses newscasts as plot points seems to scream for a Shyamalan), the testing of faith and fears of the apocalypse, and the turmoil of family. This latest outing is a beautifully made horror feature about love and shouldering the burden of the whole world. It’s all held up by stellar subtle performances (I’ve been saying, Dave Bautista really is it) that work to jam the audience into a war between the lines and their meaning. M. Night Shyamalan is good at a lot of things, but one of them is creating an overwhelming sense of spookiness in sunny and regular locations. By filling a cabin with dread (OK, without the use of zombies or dark spirits), he’s delivered another horror tale we should rush to see before the world ends.

Knock at the Cabin is in theaters February 3, 2023