"Knock at the Cabin" stars Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn, and Rupert Grint. Released on February 3, 2023, the film is about a family being held hostage by four strangers.
The film is directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who also directed films such as "The Sixth Sense", "Signs", "The Visit", and "Old". It is based on the 2018 novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay. In every horror movie featuring a cabin in the woods, there's always a good chance you'll wind up fighting for your life instead of getting some peace and quiet. It's one of the reasons some of us would rather stay at a fancy hotel than in the middle of nowhere where no one can hear us scream. Unfortunately, one family didn't get the memo as they're forced to survive against their unexpected visitors. However, the mysterious strangers aren't the only ones they should be worried about. We're finally getting to the good stuff this February, as 2023 is looking to excite us with its interesting slate of movies, starting with the latest horror film from M. Night Shyamalan. The filmmaker has dealt with superheroes and even a beach that ages people rapidly. Now, he's using his psychological filmmaking skills to depict a nerve-wracking decision that'll determine the fate of humanity, hoping that it'll bring him back to his glory days before things went south for him in the late 2000s and early 2010s. With that said, let's visit the cabin and see if it's frightening enough to prevent the director's own apocalypse.
The film follows a family consisting of Eric (Groff), his husband Andrew (Aldridge), and their young daughter Wen (Cui). They're vacationing at a remote cabin hidden deep within the woods. Unfortunately, their peaceful retreat swiftly turns upside-down when they're visited by a group of strangers led by Leonard (Bautista), who takes the family hostage. Leonard then informs the frightened family that humanity will soon cease to exist due to an unexplainable phenomenon unless the family sacrifices one of their own. With an unspeakable decision between themselves and the world lying on their shoulders, the family attempts to escape the strangers' clutches while figuring out their true motives.
M. Night Shyamalan is still a wild card that we always anticipated seeing regarding his crazy ideas. While some of them fell short of what he's interpreting regarding his direction and screenplay, others like "The Sixth Sense", "Unbreakable", and even "Split" succeed in providing mind-blowing surprises and entertaining thrills at a smaller scale. Shyamalan's latest film, the first adaptation of Paul G. Tremblay's novel, could go in either direction based on his recent track record. It could be another return to form for the filmmaker, a divisive piece of work, or even "The Last Airbender". Either way, I'm still rooting for the guy to make a comeback after getting harassed for his recent stinkers. The trailers have already won me over with the film's enticing concept and Dave Bautista, but what about its execution? Well, it would be hard to answer that question without spoiling anything. However, I will say that I was entertained by this tense experience.
I would describe this movie as a straightforward home invasion thriller with the elements of a low-budget "Day After Tomorrow". While the end of the world is briefly shown in the background, the main focus is the cabin with a small group of characters. What makes this approach unnerving is that the audience is in the cabin with them, witnessing the events unfold on television or outside. More importantly, it is displayed with a realistic sense of dread instead of relying on overblown CGI spectacle like most apocalyptic disaster films. Considering that the movie has a $20 million budget, it's pretty impressive despite some of the visuals looking slightly iffy.
Regarding its storytelling, "Knock at the Cabin" works as an old-fashioned, heart-pounding invasion feature involving four strangers preventing the apocalypse. The scares are muted, with a few making more of a tap than a massive knock. However, Shyamalan compensates for the lack of screams with his showcase of discomfort and anxiety through his direction and screenplay. The director displays the phobia of uncertainty toward people's agendas in a reasonably captivating and unnerving way. The movie is Shyamalan's second project to receive an R rating after "The Happening" in 2008. While the violence isn't too far-fetched, it's still disturbing to witness. This further proves that Shyamalan knows how to creep people out without relying heavily on blood and gore.
However, the story offers more than just a basic home invasion thriller. I couldn't explain it without spoiling the experience for anyone going to it blind. All I can say is that the film delivers a thought-provoking reflection on humanity amid its stressful confrontation, especially regarding one of its characters. The storytelling involving its thematic material was hit-and-miss sometimes regarding its exploration and middling emotion. However, the parts that do hit were decent enough to make me care for these people, mainly the family.
The cast also did wonders with their performances. Even though some of their acting chops came close to being too over-the-top, the actors involved impressed me long enough to look past that. Dave Bautista has been doing very well in following his path to movie stardom through his various roles. Most of his roles were from the action genre, but a couple of them also involved him displaying some effective humor. "Knock at the Cabin" sees Bautista trying his hand at the horror genre regarding his take on Leonard. The result is another worthy performance from the former wrestler turned actor. Jonathan Groff, known by many for his Broadway career and his role as Kristoff in "Frozen", also delivered a solid performance as Eric. Ben Aldridge manifested Andrew's anxiety and disbelief pretty well, and the young Kristen Cui was suitable in her role as Wen.
I would also credit the film for its cinematography by Jarin Blaschke, best known for working with Robert Eggers and his films like last year's "The Northman". The movie offers a variety of immersive wide-angle shots that are impossible to look away from, especially the close-up shots of the characters' faces. Apparently, Shyamalan likes to invade their personal space, which might be one of the reasons they're always frightened. Additionally, it offers a compelling "old-school thriller" vibe from the 90s regarding its presentation. Without relying too much on heavy editing, the cinematography beautifully captures its sense of fear through its shots and lighting.
Overall, "Knock at the Cabin" is an unnerving and consistently tense thriller that deserves to be let in. It doesn't pack a lot of scares inside the household, but it offers enough decent moments in its storytelling, thrills, and cast to prevent another apocalypse for M. Night Shyamalan. With another solid film at his disposal, it's safe to say that the filmmaker is getting close to getting his mojo back if he hasn't done so already. Considering the bad rep he's been getting since 2006, he definitely deserves that kind of success. So if you're making a choice on what to watch during the weekend, make sure you choose this movie.