Another year, another odd M. Night Shyamalan film. While one always appreciates a film from a noteworthy director with a unique film language, you never know if you’re going to get one of his hits or misses. 2021‘s Old was an off-kilter misstep, despite some decent moments (find our full thoughts here). Now comes his next adaptation of a weird sci-fi/horror book he liked in the form of Knock at the Cabin. A combination of home invasion thriller and attempted moralistic horror such as the derided The Box, Knock at the Cabin continues the themes of Shyamalan’s recent works. Some interesting concepts and occasionally strong scenes are weighed down by poor execution and oddball writing.
We noted that Old strangely chose to have its characters talk in a sort of stilted manner, explaining their jobs, hobbies, and worldviews in a way no real human does. That continues here. Knock at the Cabin at least seems to provide more of a discernible in-world reason for doing this, but it still comes across as though M. Night has lost the ability to write naturalistic dialogue. This is only the beginning of the weirdness.
The film has a decent premise; a family of three (two dads and their adopted daughter) are vacationing in a woodland cabin (presumably up in the Poconos) when four home invaders arrive and demand that the family make a terrible choice. They either vote to kill one of their three or the world will come to an end via natural disasters, plagues, and more. A chunk of the film centers around the concept of belief. One of dads, Daddy-Eric (Jonathan Groff), is open to the idea that they are telling the truth. The other, Daddy-Andrew (Ben Aldridge), is highly skeptical. The four intruders are basing their actions around shared visions they had. The film plays on the idea of doubting the veracity of these visions and whether it is all a hoax.
Empathy is another theme, with the film making a deliberate point about seeing how others react and feel. As we get backstories for Eric and Andrew, we learn about how they arrived at the worldviews they have. Andrew is a jaded human rights lawyer and believes that the four are secretly bigots using apocalypse mumbo-jumbo as an excuse to torture gay men. Eric, meanwhile, has a concussion due to how the invaders violently entered their home, and the film plays with the notion that the concussion might be making him susceptible to the four’s position.
Faith and belief are not foreign ideas to Shyamalan’s work. Many of his movies have dealt with the idea of belief and how it is based on the information one has. The Sixth Sense, The Village, and Signs all revolve around this idea. Signs specifically delves into religious faith, which becomes a big part of the imagery in Knock at the Cabin.
But whereas Shyamalan’s earlier works cleverly played with those ideas and offered pointed takeaways, Knock at the Cabin, like Old, feels like a film where Shyamalan floundered to do anything with the themes and ideas he sets up. The film does end up providing an answer on whether the proclaimed apocalypse happens (at least it seems to) and the family ends up making a choice. Yet Knock at the Cabin fails to follow through with anything poignant or interesting to say about that. There are vague notions about optimism and empathy being values to cherish, but it feels half-baked and unsatisfying.
There are some decently tense moments here and there. Dave Bautista may not be an amazing actor, but he brings a presence to the screen as the lead invader. Because of his frame, even his hyper-friendly demeanor seems to potentially hide a darker violence within. Nikki Akuma-Bird, Abby Quinn, and Rupert Grint are all decent enough as well in smaller parts. Groff and Aldridge carry most of the dramatic weight capably enough.
Knock at the Cabin is among Shyamalan’s lesser efforts. He gets fascinated with an idea or work and wants to make a film out of it, but his scripts lack polish and it seems like he’s disconnected from whatever finger he once had on the pulse of human connectivity. This film had plenty of potential, but Shyalaman seems to have mucked it up. For every neat sideways closeup shot of an actor done to produce drama, it is undone by meandering dialogue, sloppy handling of themes, and a lack of true vision.