Top-Tier M. Night Shyamalan, This Delivers Dread And Fear That You Feel

Feb 14, 2023

Far from infallible as a filmmaker, M. Night Shyamalan’s catalog of work is never anything less than bold. Sometimes the result is a classic, and sometimes the result is, at the very least, a curious misfire. “Knock at the Cabin” is very much an example of the former. This apocalyptic, psychological horror, his best work since “Split,” is a relentlessly gripping winner.
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Shyamalan directed, wrote, and co-produced this adaptation of Paul G. Tremblay’s 2018 novel “The Cabin at the End of the World,” so, much like the mission at the heart of this movie, its success or failure would lie firmly at his door. The perfect blend of a killer story, tight yet rich script, and inspired ensemble casting deliver one of the filmmaker’s most emotionally impactful movies to date. There are moments when the audience will feel the dread and fear in the pit of their stomach as it drops. 
“Knock at the Cabin” sees Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge as Eric and Andrew, a couple vacationing in a remote cabin with their daughter, Wen (played by Kristen Cui Wen). Everything seems idyllic until, while playing outside, she is approached by Leonard, played by Dave Bautista, a stranger who emerges from the forest and attempts to befriend her. However, it quickly transpires that the gentle giant is there with an intent that threatens the well-being of her family.  
She runs to raise the alarm as Leonard’s companions, Nikki Amuka-Bird’s maternal Sabrina, Abby Quinn’s quirky Adriane, and Rupert Grint’s disgruntled Redmond, quickly besiege the cabin brandishing rudimental yet barbaric weapons. While they do so, Leonard and his mysterious companions explain to the fathers that they must sacrifice one of their own to avert the apocalypse. If they fail to pick, the world will end. It’s an insane and unimaginable quandary.
What ensues is a chilling, harrowing, bloody, and impeccably paced high-stakes game of scruples with performances that deliver and evoke everything from empathy to desperation and scenarios that make even the most rational of minds question whether the irrational is actually the most reasoned option. To go into specifics about the hows and whys would absolutely be spoiler territory, and “Knock at the Cabin “’s claustrophobic ambiance relies upon, certainly in the first viewing, knowing as little as possible about what lies ahead. 
Anchoring this Newton’s Cradle of calm and chaos are solid performances, with a career-best turn by Bautista being the jewel in the crown. Exuding empathy and desperation, the retired wrestler’s powerful and considered turn is a nuanced blend of light and shade that captivates. Anyone who has dismissed Bautista or doubted his ability as an actor will find it hard to make their point after seeing what he has pulled out of the bag for “Knock at the Cabin.” He brings such tenderness and anguished vulnerability to some moments and a reticent explosion of force to others. Paired with Amuka-Bird, Quinn, and Grint’s real torment and hopelessness as they plead for something so brutal and unthinkable, question marks are created in the audience’s mind. That’s where Shyamalan works his magic, and you question everything, including yourself.
The audience feels for fathers Groff and Aldridge as they are repeatedly asked to make an impossible choice as they question whether the ticking clock they are up against is even real. While Bautista is the clear leader of the messengers of alleged impending doom, they all play a heart-wrenching role in begging the two parents to do the unthinkable, even the most stoic of the troupe cracking under the magnitude of the task at hand and the consequences of the actions of others. Is anything, or everything, they are saying true? 
In his first R-rated movie since “The Happening,” Shyamalan incredibly uses shock and awe in highly creative and effective ways. At times it is genuinely breathtaking, and it never feels like a cop-out or gimmick. The filmmaker’s direction, Jarin Blaschke’s atmospheric cinematography, and Herdís Stefánsdóttir’s intense score create a heady, intoxicating, and often disorientating environment that envelopes the viewer. A challenging and confident vision, it is the director’s most engaging and authentic work in years.    
“Knock at the Cabin” does not disappoint. It’s a movie that reminds us why Shyamalan is one of contemporary cinema’s greatest alchemists and a prime example of a filmmaker at his best and boldest. [A]

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