“Knock at the Cabin” has a dark and perverse premise, one of human sacrifice for the greater good. A group of zealots meet up and go to a cabin in the woods. Like in the movie ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, a similar sacrifice was meant to be made. The purpose was to save all of humanity. But in that movie, it would mildly poke fun at Horror Tropes. In this ‘Cabin’, the tone is dark and spooky, and the bizarre nature of the concept is not played for laughs.
There is a nice wooded vacation getaway, and it perfect for a small family. Wen (played by Kristen Cui) is the adopted Asian eight-year-old child of a married gay couple. Wen looks up to Daddy Eric (played by Jonathan Groff) and also to Daddy Andrew (played by Ben Aldridge). They live in Pennsylvania and have been together for quite a while. They wanted to expand the little family by adopting Wen. Now they need some time to relax, away from the stresses of the world.
But the stresses of the world come right up to their doorstep, even out in the distant woods. Wen is playing outside, and she spots a large hulking presence in the trees. A very huge man walks up and introduces himself as Leonard (played by Dave Bautista). He tells Wen that he would like to be her new friend. But he is troubled because of what he and his other associates must do. Wen runs back up and into the cabin to alert Eric and Andrew. Why is Leonard here, and why do he and the three other people carry homemade weapons?
Of course, after Andrew and Eric close the windows and lock all the doors — there is a knock at the cabin. Leonard and the people with him force their way into the cabin. The bind Andrew and Eric to chairs, so they are tied up tight. Wen is frightened to see the four new characters in the quaint rental cabin. She has met Leonard already, just outside. But there is one other man, and two women. Who are these people?
The guy is named Redmond (played by Rupert Grint), and he is bruised and bloody from fighting Andrew. Sabrina (played by Nikki Amuka-Bird) is a nurse, and she took some time to fix up Eric’s head — after he got a concussion fighting off all of them. The other woman is named Adriane (played by Abby Quinn). All of them carry scary-looking weapons. All of them are here for the same thing. They all claim to have seen visions, visions of the future. There is a coming Apocalypse, an Earth-shattering series of events. All of humanity will perish. But all four of them know there is only one way to stop it.
This appears to be a home invasion. But these people are not out to steal anything. They are not out to take a hostage or hold anyone for ransom. They are here to deliver a message. Leonard tells them that the visions have been very clear. There is only one way to hold off the End Of The World As We Know It. One of the three, Andrew or Wen or Eric, must be willingly given up in a sacrifice. One must die, that the World might live. Andrew tells him this whole idea is, put mildly: Bull! Shirt!
Eric, still woozy from the head trauma, is confused. Andrew is defiant and angry. Wen is simply a scared eight-year-old. None of this seems to be real, and not a word of it can be true. But a calm, and almost gentle and apologetic, Leonard says that the events have already begun. There will be earthquakes, and then floods. There will be plagues on humanity. And then things will fall from the sky and the Earth shall be stuck with fire. But these are only going to be the opening acts. Then the really bad stuff will happen after that!
Leonard turns of the cable news shows. After a lousy infomercial break (who was that person eating fried chicken?) there are breaking news events. There have been reports of major earthquakes out in the Pacific Ocean. There are tsunami warnings, and major cities are caught in the events. Andrew still turns down Leonard’s ‘offer’ to kill one of his own family. There will be more horrible things to come, and it will affect all of humanity. There will be not one person left on Earth. Leonard tells them, there is only one way to prevent it. But the answer is still “NO”!
Very well – then Leonard and his crew know what the visions have revealed to them. For every time that the family of three refuses to comply – Leonard and his associates will have to brutally murder one their own. It will be a different type of sacrifice. But this one will not end the Apocalypse, the murder will begin a new phase of the terror. Redmond, and Adriane, and Sabrina – they all have had the same visions. They all know the outcome. They all know who will be the next to go…
But Andrew notices something about the guy who calls himself ‘Redmond’. He is certain that he is the same man, named O’Bannon, who attacked Andrew years ago in a bar. O’Bannon was sentenced to a hate crime, and served time in prison. Redmond mentioned that he had been in jail. So now, more than ever — Andrew is fixed on the idea that this group of four invaders has some deep hatred of gay men. This is nothing more than another horrible hate crime. But Eric is having his doubts. After all, if this whole group is just making it all up, why are the news reports of events matching what Leonard said would happen?
“Knock at the Cabin” is a frightening look at how the deeply-held beliefs of some people can drive them to do unspeakable things. There is a rock-solid understanding that Leonard and the others have in the concept that, no matter how absurd, is the One and Only Truth. The movie is based on a book, and the ending here is not as bleak and downtrodden as in the original story. M. Night Shyamalan, along with two other screenwriters, have developed an utterly unbelievable scenario, and made it into a terrifying possibility.
The acting is uniformly good. Especially when you realize the complex and bizarre idea that the plot needs to bring across. Dave Bautista is really good at playing a potentially unhinged man (Leonard). He is a soft-spoken gentle giant, who is so sincere and apologetic — right to the point where he asks you to kill one of your own family. Ben Aldridge (Andrew) is very believable as someone who is attempting to find logical reasons why this insanity is invading his family.
M. Night Shyamalan, the co-writer and the director, is up to the task of creating a suspense filled movie that does not need to rely on ‘twist’ endings. The character-driven nature of the story makes him rely on the actor’s ability to tell the tale. M. Night gets plenty of his usual camera-work flairs and visually impressive style. He even gets his own brief cameo (as usual, for him). But this is not on the same level as “The Sixth Sense” or “Unbreakable”. But this work is very far removed from his lowest level of garbage (“The Happening”, “The Last Airbender”, “After Earth”). So call this a win
“Knock at the Cabin” might not be an M. Night Shyamalan ‘knock-out’, but this movie goes for all the rounds and delivers some brutal punches.
Knock at the Cabin
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay by: M. Night Shyamalan, Steve Desmond, Michael Sherman
Based on: “The Cabin at the End of the World” (by Paul G. Tremblay)
Starring: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint
Cinematography: Jarin Blaschke
Music by: Herdís Stefánsdóttir
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release date: February 3, 2023
Length: 110 minutes
MPAA rating: R for violence and language
Genre: Mystery, Horror
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