Knock At The Cabin: Is The New Shyamalan Worth Welcoming?

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M. Night Shyamalan’s career has proven to be a critical and box-office rollercoaster, with glorious highs and crashing lows. Early hits like The Sixth Sense and Signs saw the filmmaker hailed as ‘The Next Spielberg’ on the cover of Newsweek. However, Shyamalan then torpedoed his reputation with a string of critical and box office disasters. 

After the double-whammy nadir of The Last Airbender and After Earth, Shyamalan thankfully bounced back with scarily efficient potboilers The Visit and Split. The former wunderkind seems to have settled into a comfortable (and profitable) place in his career, making quick Twilight-Zone-style thrillers with popcorn appeal. 

This brings us to Knock At The Cabin, a contained chiller with an apocalyptically high concept. It begins, deceptively, like so many other home-invasion horrors: a family on vacation is terrorised by intruders breaking into their cabin. But this finds an intriguing way to subvert the trope. For one, the family is a same-sex couple with an adopted daughter, which raises the thorny issue of homophobia. Secondly, the intruders are on a divine mission, with the fate of humanity potentially at stake. 

The end of the world is a particularly prescient theme. We have, after all, become worryingly jaded about global pandemics and climate disaster. Shyalmalan’s staging of seismic catastrophes is hugely effective, framing them within the context of news broadcasts that our protagonists helplessly watch. It’s a trick he’s pulled before (Signs, The Happening) and it works terrifically well here.   

Shyamalan’s smartest tactic, though, is the casting of Dave Bautista as the lead intruder. Bautista, a former wrestler, has proven himself to be the real deal. He’s a magnetic screen presence, and is collecting top-notch filmmakers like they’re Pokémon cards (Denis Villeneuve, Rian Johnson, and Sam Mendes, to name a few.) This is his best performance: a visibly tortured soul housed in a hulking physique.  

Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge have a lot of chemistry as the lead couple, while a frightening Rupert Grint overcomes the Ron Weasely albatross around his neck. The adorable Kristen Cui, as the daughter, is excellent, proving Shyamalan’s not lost his skill at directing children (even if The Sixth Sense’s Haley Joel Osment remains a highwater mark).

While the opening of the movie is undeniably tense, the suspense isn’t sustained. It’s far from Shyamalan’s scariest work, and the more we get to know about the intruders, the less intimidating they become. It almost works better as a philosophical thought experiment than it does a bonafide horror film. 

Perhaps the film’s biggest shortcoming, however, is that Shyamalan doesn’t quite lay out the logic of the high concept he presents. How exactly the intruders have come to their conclusion seems distractingly arbitrary.

Still, after the disappointing Old, Knock at the Cabin is a definite step up for its director. He may not be the next Spielberg, but that doesn’t matter: he’s today’s Shyamalan.

A stripped-down chiller that’ll keep you gripped between mouthfuls of popcorn. It may be far from Shyamalan’s best, but Gen X’s Master of Suspense has still got it.

★★★

You can check this movie out at the Eden Cinemas

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