Knock at the Cabin (2023) ☆☆☆(3/4): The Cabin at the End of the World

M. Night Shyamalan’s new film “Knock at the Cabin” is a modest but tense thriller surrounded by one grim possibility of apocalypse. While it sometimes feels like an extended episode of “The Twilight Zone”, that is what we usually expect from Shyamalan’s films, and he handles the story and characters well enough to hold our attention before the movie arrives at its inevitable finale.

The story begins with one ominous encounter in the middle of a remote forest area. While she is enjoying her own free time while her adoptive gay parents are resting in a nearby cabin, Wen (Kristen Cui) sees a hulking male figure approaching to her, and she soon comes to have some talk with him. Although this guy, who is named Leonard (Dave Bautista), looks like mild and gentle on the surface, Wen instinctively senses something wrong about him – especially when she sees three other strangers also coming to her.

Naturally quite disturbed, Wen runs away to the cabin for warning to her adoptive parents, and Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) are certainly alarmed to see Leonard and his three fellow strangers. As these four strangers knock on the front door, Eric and Andrew try to block them as much as possible while also trying to call the police, but, of course, the phone line is already cut, and they are soon overpowered by Leonard and his companions once Leonard and his companions eventually break into the cabin.

After having both Eric and Andrew tied up in chair, Leonard and his companions explain why they come to the cabin. All of them have had apocalyptic visions for some time, and they firmly believe that their visions will come true unless there comes a willing sacrifice from Andrew, Eric, and Wen. One of them must be killed for preventing the impending apocalypse, and, not so surprisingly, suicide is not an option in this case.

Of course, neither Andrew nor Eric believes what they are just told, and they try to deal with Leonard and his companions as sensibly as possible, but it soon turns out that Leonard and his companions are quite serious about what they believe. Whenever Andrew and Eric refuse to make a choice, Leonard and his companions show how they are really committed to their shared belief, and you will wince more than once for good reasons, though many of violent moments in the film are not directly depicted on the screen.

And it looks like what Leonard and his companions are warning about is really happening outside. Because TV is still working, Eric and Andrew see several inexplicable big disasters happening around the world, and Leonard and his companions insist that these are consequences from Andrew and Eric refusing to make a sacrifice to abort the eventual apocalypse.

Andrew and Eric remain unconvinced on the surface for good reasons, but they respond to their impossible situation in different ways. While Eric, who was incidentally injured in his head in the middle of the break-in, somehow becomes calmer, Andrew becomes more frantic and furious, and he also intensely questions the real motive of Leonard and his companions. He later recognizes one of Leonard’s companions because they had a very unpleasant encounter some years ago, and he naturally comes to suspect more that he and Eric were targeted just for being gay.

In the meantime, the screenplay by Shyamalan and his co-writers Steven Desmond and Michael Sherman, which is based on Paul G. Tremblay’s “The Cabin at the End of the World”, insert occasional flashback scenes which flesh out the relationships among Eric, Andrew, and Wen. Besides being a good couple despite a few setbacks including the disapproval from Andrew’s parents, Eric and Andrew also have been good daddies to Wen since they adopted her in an unofficial way, and both of them care about Wen’s safety first even when they try to get out of their current tricky circumstance as much as possible.

I will not go into details on what eventually happens along the story, but I can tell you instead on how Shyamalan and his crew members keep things rolling even when the story becomes more predictable later in the film. Thanks to the cinematographers Jarin Blacshke, who was previously Oscar-nominated for Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse” (2019), and Lowell A. Meyer, the movie seldom feels stiff or stuffy even though it mostly stays within its limited background, and the score by Herdís Stefánsdóttir is often striking whenever it needs to inject the sense of doom into the screen.

In case of the main cast members of the film, Dave Bautista is a definite standout as ably balancing his seemingly gentle character between menace and desperation, and he is supported well by Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, and Rupert Grint, who has gone his own way like Daniel Radcliffe since their Harry Potter films. Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge are also solid as the emotional center of the story, and young actress Kristen Cui holds her own small place well among her adult co-stars.

In conclusion, “Knock at the Cabin” is one of more enjoyable films from Shyamalan, who has had a fair share of ups and downs since he was Oscar-nominated for “The Sixth Sense” (1999). Although it does not reach to the level of several similar but better films including Bill Paxton’s “Frailty” (2001) and Michael Tolkin’s “Rapture” (1991), the movie is fairly entertaining for Shyamalan’s competent direction and several fine performances to notice, and that is good enough for recommendation for now.

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