Knock at the Cabin (2023)—Violent Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Apocalypse
Back in the beginning of his career, director M. Night Shyamalan was almost untouchable with his first feature film The Sixth Sense. However, around 2007, his work severely decreased in quality, hitting an all-time low with films such as The Last Airbender and After Earth. And although he recently came back into the limelight with films like The Visit and Split, he quickly reverted back to his old ways with Glass and Old. And no other film is the personification of that other than Knock at the Cabin!
A family: Eric (played by Jonathan Groff), Andrew (played by Ben Aldridge) and their daughter Wen are at a cabin in the woods for a vacation getaway. One day as Wen is outside catching grasshoppers, she comes across a physically intimidating man named Leonard (played by Dave Bautista) who tells her that should he and his cohorts knock on their cabin door, that her dads should open it for them. Startled, Wen runs to the cabin where she warns her dads before Leonard and three others: Redmond (played by Rupert Grint), Sabrina (played by Nikki Amuka-Bird) and Adriane (played by Abby Quinn) break in and tie up Andrew and Eric. They explain that the family must sacrifice one member from their family to prevent the apocalypse. As the family refuses to make a sacrifice, said apocalypse nears.
I will say that one of the strengths this film has is the acting, particularly that of Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge. Bautista proves time and time again that he is a versatile actor who is more than just a buff clown trope compared to either John Cena or Dwayne Johnson. As Leonard, a former school teacher, he fully proves his ability to control a room without yelling or threatening violence. Meanwhile, Jonathan Groff continues to amaze me with how well he can convey his thoughts without words through only his facial expressions, mostly his eyes. He was a former actor on Broadway, so this should come across as expected, yet I’m continually impressed. Finally, Ben Aldridge as Andrew perfectly conveys the anger and stress that the intruders are causing his family.
Knock at the Cabin is painted as a horror film by its promotional material, yet it fails to really come across as scary. M. Night Shyamalan does an excellent job at building tension by using his signature close ups, Dutch angles and suspenseful music, yet the payoff of said tension never really happens. Once Leonard and the other three break in to the cabin, all tension is lost. The rest of the film is a boring back and forth of whether the apocalypse is even real or if the four are suffering from a mass delusion.
Speaking of which, I need to address the main plot of the film. So these four said that they began having visions of the end of the world which will come in four stages: first the oceans will flood the world, then a plague will break out, then the sky will fall down and last but not least, a storm will tear the world apart. So I have a couple of questions. One, what gave them those visions? Two, why is the apocalypse so dependent on one particular family sacrificing one of their own? Why not any other family? Are they somehow more important or do the four of them just go from family to family? And finally, why would you immediately jump to the conclusion that you are responsible for preventing the apocalypse rather than making a more logical conclusion like seeing a psychiatrist? Also, what if the family had a gun on them? Did these four have a second plan if that were the case?
But aside from the really questionable character decisions, I’d like to take this time to mention the disjointed storytelling. Knock at the Cabin has a rather non-linear plot, which while it can be a benefit, just makes the film feel confusing. Some of the flashbacks give proper context to some scenes, such as Andrew having a flashback to when he was attacked by Redmond at a bar in a homophobic attack. But most of the time, the flashbacks feel unnecessary and even confuses you since it happens without warning. For example, while the family is being held against their will in the cabin, it will suddenly cut to a flashback one of the dads has from years back to something less relevant. While some films can use this to further the storytelling such as Gerald’s Game, Knock at the Cabin does not.
Finally, this wouldn’t be a Shyamalan film without a twist ending! And do you want to guess what the twist ending for Knock at the Cabin is? That the four intruders were actually the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and that the apocalypse is actually real. In other words, this film didn’t really have a twist since it could be seen a mile away. The second the four tied up the family, I immediately knew that they were the Four Horsemen judging by their demeanor and most defining personality traits. Maybe the point of the twist is that there is no twist? I would have rather preferred it if the four of them were just some random crazed people who were suffering from a mass delusion.
I really wanted to like this movie coming out of the theater. I wanted to give M. Night Shyamalan the benefit of the doubt and see him create a cinematic masterpiece like The Sixth Sense and Split. However, that’s just not what I got. Knock at the Cabin tries so hard to build tension and suspense, making you wonder if the apocalypse is really happening, but it just falls flat on its ambitions. M. Night Shyamalan is a master at building tension but he never properly releases that tension, rather just lets it slowly fizzle away. I felt we could’ve gotten something Hitchcockian with a premise this simple, yet effective. Unfortunately, Shyamalan fails to deliver what could have been an epic horror classic.