Knock At The Cabin – Dir: M. Night Shyamalan (Film Review)

Knock at the Cabin is a psychological horror film by M. Night Shyamalan that unfortunately never utilises the impressive on-screen talent or thought-provoking terror of its original novel adaptation.

Starring: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint

Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) are vacationing with their adopted daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) at a remote forest cabin when they are visited by a group of four, weapon-wielding strangers who demand that one of the family willingly offers themselves as a sacrifice to prevent the imminent apocalypse and the death of mankind.

The group consists of Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn), Redmond (Rupert Grint) and Leonard (Dave Bautista), who also acts as the group’s de facto leader and primary apocalyptic storyteller.

As the shaken and seemingly grounded couple are held hostage and faced with an impossible decision under increasing duress, they soon find themselves torn between the choice of sacrificing their own, individual humanity or sacrificing all of humanity through their inaction.

Knock at the Cabin has almost everything going in its favour, yet manages to squander its near-unlimited potential repeatedly over its 100-minute runtime. The film is adapted from the incredible novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay and directed by a modern master of psychological horror twists, M. Night Shyamalan, boasts an impressive ensemble cast including Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Nikki Amuka-Bird, and child actress Kristen Cui, while also filled with timely, relevant themes of compassion, altruism, loss, sacrifice, isolation, and quixotism.

Yet, somehow, the two-and-a-half-minute trailer for Cocaine Bear that played before the initial credits rolled provided more satisfaction and engagement than the 100 minutes that followed immediately afterwards.

The cast is vastly underutilised and struggles to find anything more than one-dimensional characterisation from the laborious script and dialogue, the potential to examine any of the film’s themes with even the slightest depth is dismissed entirely by its manic-depressive pacing, while all the tension, horror, and hopelessness of the original novel is washed away beneath an amateur afternoon of After Effects visuals and a comically soft rewrite of its second and third act.

Perhaps I set my expectations too high through selective memory of the writer-director responsible for The Village and Split instead of The Happening and The Last Airbender, or maybe I’ve seen Dave Bautista give more nuance and existential humanity in a three-minute performance as an android in Blade Runner 2049 than the entire runtime of this film. Perhaps I’ve just seen vastly more terrifying footage of local flooding in the past 72 hours than the $10 VFX tsunami tossed into the midsection of the film with all the visual palatability of a mouldy sandwich.

Or maybe this was just a hastily written script to fulfil a two-part film deal that was forced on the director through abortive contractual obligation, desperately hoping that a brutal, ungraceful sprinkling of emotional relatability and a highly marketable, brand-driven cast would be enough to entice an audience into cinemas to recoup its modest budget, while remaining immediately forgettable enough to not tarnish the reputation of anyone involved in its catastrophic conception and execution.

Oxford Lamoureaux

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