Like his films or not, there’s no denying that M. Night Shyamalan (Old) has talent. But as time has proven, knocking it out of the park with his sophomore feature, The Sixth Sense (1999), was a double-edged sword for the then-writer-director. The film defined Shyamalan’s career by focusing so much on its signature twist that he would be expected to surprise audiences for a while afterward. Moreover, The Sixth Sense would be impossible for the director to top. Although, Shyamalan’s third film, Unbreakable (2000), is his best film thus far. It is also one of the best and most underrated comic book movies ever made.
With the next few films, Shyamalan’s career would take quite a tumultuous path: a series of big-budget flops resulting in his stint in movie jail. Eventually, though, he entered into an output deal with Universal Pictures. This partnership allowed the director quite a lot of creative freedom, but with some studio oversight. Additionally, the deal consisted of multi-picture guarantees, but only for low-medium budgeted films. (Well, at least by Universal standards.) Under his partnership with the studio, Shyamalan has been able to get his career back on track, both critically and financially, since 2015’s The Visit. It was during this time that Shyamalan employed a gimmick of interconnecting two of those movies — Split (2016) and a dual sequel to that and the aforementioned Unbreakable with the underwhelming Glass (2019).
This interconnecting narrative approach wore thin for me; thanks to that, I’m over cinematic universes for the most part. But with the director’s previous effort, Old (2021), Shyamalan moved back into making standalone films. Despite being very selective with the director’s output, this is a direction I was pleased about, although I chose to avoid seeing Old itself.
The movie in review is not only a standalone film, but an adaption of the novel The Cabin at the End of the World (2018) by Paul Tremblay. While I’ve not read Tremblay’s book, it was well-received by both critics and readers. Plus, I’m admittedly a mark for any story that takes place in a cabin. I love the atmosphere the setting provides, so much so that one of my ambitions is to live in one eventually.
In any event, the novel’s title was changed to Knock at the Cabin during the film’s development to make the movie sound more appropriately ominous. Whereas I prefer the novel’s title, The Cabin at the End of the World does sound more fantastical, which is a quality I’m sure the filmmakers wanted to avoid. At the very least, though, I wish the film’s title had been extended to Knock at the Cabin (Door), as the extant name sounds like an unfinished sentence. Titular gripe digression aside, I’ve learned the movie largely adheres to the novel on which it is based.
Knock at the Cabin focuses on a married couple, Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff), along with their young daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui). The family is taking an idyllic weekend getaway at a cabin in the woods. Unfortunately, this vacation comes to a halt when the house is invaded by a quartet of people obsessed with preventing the apocalypse. A man named Leonard (Dave Bautista) serves as the leader of this group. In this capacity, he explains to his captives that they must make “an impossible decision” to prevent the end of the world as the imminent threat of violence hangs in the abode.
The premise delivers precisely what you would expect. In this case, though, that’s not a bad thing. Not only does the film’s marketing not spoil anything, but it also allows the film a chance to engross you in suspense the whole way through. This brings me to a point I must make before delving further. Despite the impression you may get from its marketing, Knock at the Cabin is not a home invasion horror but a home invasion suspense film. A quality that I found to be truly refreshing for what can be a stale subgenre.
Knock at the Cabin works far better than it should, using technical skills and careful crafting in its narrative. From a technical standpoint, Shyamalan and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke (who has collaborated with Robert Eggers on each of that director’s efforts) set out to make a movie that looks like “a classic 90s thriller“. Said look, and in my estimation, was achieved partially by shooting on 35mm film and using camera lenses from the decade. Furthermore, the lighting setup for this film is unique in that the titular cabin is mainly lit from the outside; thereby giving the movie a very natural look, which makes the plot all the easier to buy. Combine this lighting and set design with plenty of extreme facial closeups, and you’ll feel like you are also in this cabin with these characters. For most of the movie’s runtime, I felt like an invisible observer in this cabin more than merely a viewer.
At the same time, it’s not just the technical aspects and the environment they enhance that allowed me to get so invested in the proceedings. The reason I was able to become enthralled is the film’s focus on six fully fleshed-out characters; all of whom are brought to life by the cast members portraying them. So much so that I could forget the actors themselves and get into the characters. Unlike most entries in this subgenre, both the antagonist and protagonist here are all empathetic on some level, a quality I haven’t felt from a cast of characters in a long time. My only real criticism is that there are moments where the married couple/dads could be construed as a bit stereotypical. Thankfully, these instances are just that as opposed to a constant.
As with every suspenseful thriller, you have to suspend your disbelief a little. If you can do that, you’ll enjoy your stay in the Cabin. No movie has put me in suspense in a long time like Knock at the Cabin did. It’s one of the better thrillers I’ve seen in a while, and is undoubtedly the best movie Shyamalan has produced since Signs — and it might even be better than that 2002 film. After seeing Knock at the Cabin, I’m curious to see what Shyamalan will do next.
Knock at the Cabin is now playing in theaters.
Like his films or not, there’s no denying that M. Night Shyamalan (Old) has talent. But as time hasCOMICONRead More