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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Knock at the Cabin: Review

A tight-knit family enjoying their vacation is presented with a world-altering conundrum when four strangers arrive at their doorstep in Knock at the Cabin.

Embracing a sinister set-up steeped in unsettling ambiguity is second nature for writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. Few auteurs in the industry can cultivate such passionate responses with their work. After the roaring success of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable earned him "the next Steven Spielberg" distinction, a wave of divisive features led to many film fans disparaging his talents. I can't say his hatters are entirely off base, as blockbuster duds like The Last Airbender and After Earth are wildly disjointed and ineffective in execution.

Through his hits and misses, I've always admired Shyamalan. His distinct, fable-esque storytelling often incites atmosphere and contemplative angst in ways few filmmakers can match. His infectious exuberance behind the camera is also endlessly enjoyable to bask in. Shyamalan consistently crafts distinctly imaginative features that resonate deeply with me in their breathtaking, pie-in-the-sky ambition.

With Knock at the Cabin, Shyamalan continues his second-act renaissance of conjuring low-budget, self-funded projects. Recent works in this career wave, like 2019's Glass and 2021's Old, delivered rich thematic textures and an unparalleled stylistic verve. While Knock may not add to the sum of its parts, it still provides an unnerving thrill ride.

Knock wastes no time establishing its oppressive dread. The unannounced presence of four strangers places an unfathomable responsibility on the shoulders of husbands, Eric and Andrew, and their daughter Wen. The ensemble of mysterious guests are not your typical home invaders. Instead, they earnestly try to get to know the family while decoding their hidden yet deeply personal philosophy.

I would never spoil the numerous narrative surprises baked within a Shyamalan production, but I can say the writer/director continues to imbue his trademark touch behind the camera. Shyamalan remains wonderfully adventurous in his daring technical craft, jostling his camera with kinetic framing choices and a captivating dynamism. His stylistic edge is thoughtfully executed throughout, skillfully working to establish nerve-wracking tensions within the tight quarters of the film's one-room setting. I especially appreciate Shyamalan's intimate touch in capturing his characters. Several up-close scenes work wonders in extenuating the characters and their personal plights.

In adapting Paul G. Tremblay's 2018 novel, Shyamalan continues to embrace familiar narrative tenants. Knock at the Cabin fits his sensibilities like a glove, spinning a moral parable embellished by the infusion of macabre reflections on human nature. The narrative boasts a compelling allure with every twist and turn, yet Shyamalan never forgets to evoke a sense of warmth underneath the chaos. His emotionally-charged flashbacks and sensitive character-building ensure a genuine rooting interest throughout Knock's narrative roller coaster ride.

The cast of Knock at the Cabin delivers some of their best performances to date. Known by some for his burly physique, Dave Bautista is quietly developing into one of the industry's most reliable character actors. The former wrestling star transforms the role of Leonard - the ringleader of the mysterious stranger group - into a complex and reflective figure who continuously unveils intriguing layers of nuance. Abby Quinn, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Rupert Grint are compelling enigmas as the other trio of strangers. Meanwhile, Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge define a personable relationship as the romantic pair Andrew and Eric.

For all of Knock's strengths, the film features a familiar Shyamalan pratfall - stumbling at the finish line. The third act, which takes a decidedly different path from the novel, becomes a clumsy experience as Shyamalan bluntly spells out his intentions to viewers. This oversimplistic choice limits some of the film's intriguing meditations on ideology and its divisive, all-consuming powers, settling instead for a tidy Hollywood ending that mitigates some of Knock's dramatic potential. Shyamalan's eye for genuine emotions still shines through the cracks, although the film does not leave the same impact as some of his prior features.

Even a base single for Shyamalan is still a cinematic experience worth celebrating. Knock at the Cabin is an entrancing horror showcase that highlights the distinct talents of its writer/director.

Knock at the Cabin is now playing in theaters.


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