Stars: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Rupert Grint, Abby Quinn, Kristen Cui
Writers: M. Night Shyamalan and Steve Desmond & Michael Sherman, based on the novel THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD by Paul Tremblay
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Release Date: February 3, 2023
KNOCK AT THE CABIN is a mostly good, often surprising apocalypse drama based on Paul Tremblay’s novel, THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD. Director M. Night Shyamalan and his co-scripters Steve Desmond & Michael Sherman create some awesome character moments and even some truly funny intentional humor.
The action takes place mainly in and around a cabin in the woods – but no, not that kind of cabin in the woods. Loving married couple Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and their not-quite-eight-year-old daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) have come up to this idyllic, isolated spot for the weekend, and so far, things are going great.
Then, while Wen is outside catching grasshoppers in order to study them, she is approached by Leonard (Dave Bautista). Leonard has a genuinely kind manner, but Wen is spooked and runs back indoors.
Soon Leonard is joined by his compatriots, Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Redmond (Rupert Grint), and Ardiane (Abby Quinn). They, like Leonard, are respectful and polite – okay, the women are, Redmond is a bit of a jerk – but they insist that Andrew, Eric, and Wen listen to them.
The quartet are here because they have all had some visions. First, they need to convince the little family that the visions are real and have been interpreted correctly. Then they need to persuade the family members to voluntarily (force cannot be used) to do something very specific.
KNOCK AT THE CABIN steps right up to its first central challenge, which is how Leonard and company deal with the fact that they know that what they’re saying – to perfect strangers, no less – sounds insane. This is frequently hilarious, on purpose. As the situation becomes more dire, though, the film suffuses with sorrow.
Because this is done so well, and the characters and performers are all so engaging, we become invested at once in how this can possibly come to a conclusion. There are a couple of slips on the way, including one vision related by Ardiane that can’t happen. Nobody calls her on this, which means it’s a filmmaker error, not a major stumbling block in itself, but an indicator that other, larger issues may not have been fully thought out.
One such issue is the explanation for why Leonard’s group performs certain rituals. In Tremblay’s book, it’s to buy time; in KNOCK AT THE CABIN, it’s explained so obliquely that it seems to be done more for effect than due to story logic.
Then there’s the matter of the finale. This raises meta issues of authorial intent, which no doubt will be discussed elsewhere. Tremblay’s book is readily available, and a synopsis is online. KNOCK AT THE CABIN has an ending that is supported by what has come before, but it feels not quite right, as though something is being bent in a direction that isn’t natural to it. Viewer mileage may vary on this.
Bautista impressively juggles Leonard’s sensitivity and embarrassment and the way they contrast with his imposing physicality. Aldridge, as the understandably enraged Andrew, and Groff, as the more fearful Eric, are both deeply likable, even endearing. Cui is bright and adorable. She also demonstrates with huge lung power that it’s never too early in life to begin a career as a literal scream queen. Bird, Grint, and Quinn all make their people achingly human.
A KNOCK AT THE CABIN is largely compelling; it just has a third act that winds up being more predictable than what has come before.
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