Film Reviews

Knock at the Cabin review: Dir. M. Night Shyamalan (2023)

A family staying in a remote cabin in the woods are approached by four people: Leonard (Dave Bautista), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Redmond (Rupert Grint), who warn them of an imminent apocalypse. The only way to prevent the end of the world is for the family – Eric (Jonathan Groff), his husband Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) – to decide whether to save themselves or the rest of humanity.

This claustrophobic mystery box set-up is ideal for director M. Night Shyamalan, whose more recent films have leant more into low-budget, high-concept horrors (Split, Old) and away from big-budget spectacle. Knock at the Cabin is immediately all the more engaging for its confined setting, and cutting off the characters from the rest of the world helps to create the ambiguity: is Leonard telling the truth? Can the world be ending? And if it is, how this family prevent it?

A large part of the film’s suspense is due to the cast. Dave Bautista has deliberately pushed himself into different kinds of roles over his recent acting career (Shyamalan reportedly chose the actor after seeing his great supporting role in Blade Runner 2049), and in Knock at the Cabin commits entirely to Leonard: a character who on the face of things appears to be threatening, but comes across endearing, amiable and not intending to cause any harm. Bautista brings a lot of pathos to the role, and a gentleness that contrasts with his imposing physicality. One of the film’s greatest strengths is that there is a real sense that the four intruders are real people with lives beyond that of the narrative, emphasised in some emotive scenes from Nikki Amuka-Bird and Abby Quinn. Rupert Grint‘s Redmond is perhaps the most threatening of the group: a gruff, blunt character whose motives seem more ambiguous. At the centre of the drama are Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge, who make for an endearing couple, albeit with different perspectives of their apocalyptic situation. A series of flashbacks with the two help to add some depth to the characters, although these sometimes feel a little clunky in the overall narrative. The two parents’ on-screen dynamic with Wen – played very well by young actress Kristen Cui – is very believable, providing a much-needed emotional core to the story.

There is a strong feeling of tension all the way through Knock at the Cabin. Shyamalan not only confines the characters to the titular cabin, but also in his framing, frequently using tight close-ups on the actors’ faces and allowing the audience to see every emotional beat. It’s a bold choice, but speaks to Shyamalan’s confidence in his ensemble cast – even if it gets a little repetitive cutting from extreme close-up to extreme close-up. Herdís Stefánsdóttir‘s score subtly helps to build the suspense throughout, and the screenplay adeptly manages to keep the audience guessing as to what’s really going on until the very end.

While there is undeniably a horror element to Knock at the Cabin, the film never commits entirely to this genre, instead keeping the emphasis on the suspense and the drama, focusing on the characters’ reactions to the surreal events unfolding around them. There isn’t perhaps the huge twist that some may have expected from M. Night Shyamalan, but the ending reveal is probably the most satisfying conclusion the film could have had, whilst still leaving an element of ambiguity. Despite some clunky moments, this is a great mystery box thriller from Shyamalan (even if fans of the original novel The Cabin at the End of the World may not be happy with some changes in the adaptation), bolstered by a brilliant and entirely committed cast. If you’re looking for a bit of suspense this February, it’s difficult not to recommend Knock at the Cabin.

Knock At The Cabin is out in UK and Irish cinemas, from 3rd February


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