‘Knock at the Cabin’ review: M. Night Shyamalan’s latest is for believers
M. Night Shyamalan forged his reputation with gripping thrillers with mind-bending twists such as: The sixth sense, sign, and Unbreakable. But the past twenty years has seen a patchy filmography, littered with abysmal offerings (Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Happening, Lady in the Water) has made watching a Shyamalan movie a gamble in itself.
Sometimes he finds the fun in his self-created niche, as he did with sneaky entertaining Devil and the merrily silly horror comedy The visit. At times he loses himself in flowery plot twists, overwrought emotions, and wringing out of damp, shaky narratives, as in Glass and Old. his latest, Knock at the hutUnfortunately, he tends to fall into the latter camp. Despite being peppered with masterfully constructed suspense sequences, nail-biting performances, and a gripping story, this thriller falls disastrously flat.
Be warned: Knock at the hut is not The hut at the end of the world.
Credit: Universal Pictures
Inspired by Paul Tremblay’s novel The hut at the end of the world, Knock at the hut revolves around a terrifying home invasion that pits a family of three against four doomsday cultists. Seven-year-old Wen (a lovely Kristen Cui) vacations with her fathers Eric (a beaming Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (a stern Ben Aldridge). But the tranquility of their remote cabin getaway is shattered when a hulking stranger appears at the tree line.
This is Leonard (Dave Bautista), one of four self-proclaimed prophets who believes the end of the world is upon mankind. Joined by his cryptic colleagues Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Redmond (servant‘s Rupert Grint), Leonard invades the family cabin to force them with an impossible choice: to save humanity from Armageddon, one of these three must be willingly sacrificed by the other two. But first the family must be convinced that the apocalypse is near.
Those who read Tremblay’s book might think they know what’s going to happen next, but the screenplay, written by Shyamalan and co-writers Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, deviates radically from the source material halfway through. Without spoiling the film’s twists, I can report that these massive changes not only affect the story’s conclusion, but also its core message. And on that journey, your mileage may vary depending on how much of a believer you are.
Knock at the hut is not the thriller you expect, for better or for worse.
Credit: Universal Pictures
The premise might sound like something straight out of Stephen King, brutal and terrifying, but these invaders aren’t exactly what they seem. Behind their awkward uniform of dark denim jeans and button-down shirts, they have a tender side beyond their crude guns. They tie up their victims, threaten them, then tell personal stories, bandage the wounds they inflicted, and lovingly prepare meals. Her eyes tremble with tears as the ticking clock calls for a human sacrifice. When so many horror home invaders are stoic or giddy, their desperation at what they must do is freshly terrifying. To Shyamalan’s credit, the softness of these four horsemen does not lessen the use of human sacrifice to the death. They are regretful yet determined, a distinction that urges audiences to not only identify with the assaulted family, but also — dare we? – the attackers.
This trembling quartet’s performances are rousing. Even though they are a group, everyone stands out. Amuka-Bird brings soft-eyed sincerity as a nurse who is marginalized when asked to hurt others. Grint snarls, shoulders hunched wildly, as a worker with a chip on his shoulder and a dark past. As a Gen Z lineage chef, Quinn happily flutters about being politically correct while obsessing over her religious mission. It’s a collision of values that makes for some startling, funny moments, and Shyamalan intelligently brings humor and pathos to the story, adding rich texture to the thriller. But with his muscular physique and undeniable screen presence, Dave Bautista shoulders this group and the film itself in perhaps the finest performance of his career to date.
Dave Bautista stunned like Knock at the hutis Leonard.
Credit: Universal Pictures
From the very first scene, where towering Leonard approaches tiny Wen, threat is implied by Bautista’s sheer size and brawn. His tattoos practically roar on his biceps and massive hands as he reaches out for the girl, but his movements are as gentle as his tone as he talks to the kid about locusts and doom. A shirt and wire-rimmed glasses illustrate how Leonard has tried to look less intimidating and more approachable to his prey.
Aware of his potential for physical violence is cloaked in the suede glove of a civilian and the attire of an elementary school teacher. While a real weapon comes into play, its involvement is less exciting than waiting for the inevitable moment when Leonard loses his cool exterior and gives in to the violence this premise and his physique seem to promise. Ironically, that potential is even more exciting when he’s hidden from the frame in a deceptively simple bathroom scene that’s a masterclass in suspense-building – a perfect example of Shyamalan’s skill as a director. Through it all, Leonard’s soft, ardent heart sets the tone of this film, patiently but persistently asking the audience to listen.
Knock at the hut fails briefly in his final.
Credit: Universal Pictures
I was deeply invested for maybe two-thirds of this film. I was drawn to this strange conundrum that has a family caught between an impossible choice and a relentless band of eschatological fanatics. The question of whether these harbingers are true or delusional not only pulls us into the plot, but also puts the audience firmly in the camping boots of Andrew and Eric—tied to our chairs, helpless to do anything but listen and watch as the horror unfolds. Shyamalan deftly encourages our identification with the partners through a series of flashbacks, revealing them in happier, more relatable moments of love. However, as Shyamalan and his associates strayed further from Tremblay’s map, that journey lost me.
The use of newscasts as a means of representation is quickly becoming repetitive, not to mention the increasing detachment from the reality of how newscasts work. This awkward break with reality steadily undermines this thriller’s grounded horror. Characters begin to behave in ways that feel less authentic and deserved and more necessary for the storyline to progress. For example, a person who runs away in terror returns minutes later screaming—and attracting exactly the kind of attention you might want to avoid when knowingly throwing yourself into a conflict. The greatest character enters Knock at the hut feels just as mysteriously abrupt. The screenwriters try to cover this with an overzealous monologue that – despite the talent in this film – feels flowery and forced.
Some will say that the book could never have worked as a film as it was because it was too dark. That may be true for a studio-produced tentpole with a famous director and a star-studded cast. Our expectations of such a spectacle call for something thrilling, even in the dark. But I can’t help but imagine an indie drama that would dare to tell Tremblay’s story without toning down as much of it to satisfy sentimentality and religious zeal.
In the end, Shyamalan leans hard against the influences his Roman Catholic upbringing(Opens in a new window). His changes to the source material favor a view of the apocalypse, family, suffering, and self-sacrifice that were familiar to this apostate Catholic. But these elements collided with the world in the first act. Maybe that was the point. Perhaps Shyamalan is knowingly leading his audience away from the world we know, which we claim is rational and under our control, and seeks to give us a vision that places more faith in God and his potential for carnage .
Belief in a Catholic image of God, or belief in Shyamalan, might be enough to get some viewers through that harsh twist in the final act. For me, the finale is frustrating because so much of what came before was extraordinary. This ensemble’s performances root audiences in this claustrophobic catastrophe, while clever scripting offers no obvious way out. Cameramen Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer brew a somber atmosphere with Dutch perspectives that warn of a sideways world. Violence, mostly kept off-screen, adds to the eerie, suspense-filled atmosphere and denies the audience the catharsis it offers when they go panting for blood. Furthermore, the pathetic beauty of cinematography – even in the midst of violence – reminds us what wonders of the world may be in jeopardy.
There is no denying the technical brilliance of Shyamalan’s latest work. But the final act unfolds in earnest sermon that screams where the rest sing. Knock at the hut is ultimately 2/3 of a great movie but is muddled by Shyamalan’s harrowing conclusion. Ironically, instead of a change that would give mainstream audiences a happy ending, he chose one that’s miserable in its own way.
Knock at the hut opens in cinemas on February 2nd.
https://mashable.com/article/knock-at-the-cabin-review ‘Knock at the Cabin’ review: M. Night Shyamalan’s latest is for believers