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Film Review: Great Performance Can’t Quite Save “Knock at the Cabin”

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | February 2nd, 2023

Film poster: “Knock at the Cabin”

Knock at the Cabin (M. Night Shyamalan, 2023) 2 out of 4 stars.

The end is nigh, even if none of us know it. Blissfully going about our daily lives, we miss the signs of impending apocalypse. Only what if there were no signs? What if the random messengers of doom chosen by some unseen forces were the sole possessors of nightmarish visions of the future? Would you believe them? Such is the dilemma faced by married couple Andrew and Eric, along with their adopted daughter Wen, when four strangers show up on their doorstep and force them to make a decision they refuse to make. Based on Paul Tremblay’s 2018 novel The Cabin at the End of the World, Knock at the Cabin, the latest from director M. Night Shyamalan (Old), has secrets a aplenty but not much mystery. For a while, that’s enough, but misery is only so much good company.

Ben Aldridge (Spoiler Alert) and Jonathan Groff (The Matrix Resurrections) star as Andrew and Eric, with Kristen Cui as Wen. Nikki Amuka-Bird (Persuasion), Dave Bautista (Glass Onion), Rupert Grint (everybody’s favorite Weasley), and Abby Quinn (S#!%house) play the unwanted guests: Sabrina, Leonard, Redmond, and Adriane. All the actors are excellent, making us feel the immediacy of their extreme anguish. It’s not their performances that eventually make the film sour, but the story, itself.

l-r: Ben Aldridge and Jonathan Groff in KNOCK AT THE CABIN @Universal Pictures

The hulking, tattooed Leonard arrives first in an unsettling bit where he approaches Wen as she captures grasshoppers for a science experiment. Much like she and her dads will soon be, these hapless creatures find themselves trapped against their will, though at least she is a benign deity to them. A creepy as an unknown man talking to an almost-8-year-old girl in the woods may be, though, Leonard seems gentle enough. Until his companions arrive.

They are on a mission, having each dreamed of the world’s destruction should they not fulfill their task: to ask the people in this lonely cabin to decide who among them will die. Barring a decision, a new plague will be unleashed on the planet. After the fourth refusal, should that come to pass, darkness will cover the Earth, and everyone but the members of this lovely family will die. Thanks for ruining our holiday, folks!

Kristen Cui in KNOCK AT THE CABIN @Universal Pictures

What transpires is fairly predictable, if gloomy. Neither Andrew nor Eric believe any of it, assuming that they are being targeted for being gay. And so they do not choose. And stuff happens, bad stuff, some of it possibly coincidence, the violence in the cabin anything but. One thing the script does quite well, however, is provide ample backstory for our main couple (less so for the four strangers). When the climax reaches its peak, we care about them. Their lives matter.

Still, there is a deep unpleasantness to the narrative that never goes away. Those looking for one of the director’s trademark twists where the truth is revealed as the opposite of what we see will be sorely disappointed. And that’s the problem, not that Shyamalan doesn’t have the right to change things up, but that there are no real surprises. We get what we expect, and it’s bleak. Even the somewhat happy ending is filled with sorrow. And given that such a conclusion was really the only possible outcome, where’s the joy in that?

l-r: Abby Quinn, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Dave Bautista, and Rupert Grint in KNOCK AT THE CABIN @Universal Pictures

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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