Review | Knock At The Cabin (2023)
Carl takes a trip out to M. Night Shyamalan’s country residence and dares to Knock At The Cabin. But did he get a warm welcome or a cold reception?
M. Night Shyamalan has a decent track record when it comes to thrilling big-screen entertainment. From his breakthrough with The Sixth Sense (and its brilliant twist ending) right up to Old, even when he’s slightly below par, we are in for a great ride. Usually, the writer/director writes his own material for the movie he creates. For his latest movie, however, he has written an adaptation of a previously published work, based on an initial draft by Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman. And he has crafted something that is a good adaptation that misses the mark slightly.
Don’t get me wrong, his film is highly entertaining, engrossing, and enjoyable. The movie, Knock At The Cabin, contains enough of his touches and flair to keep the audience on the edge of their seats throughout proceedings. It also features a standout performance of raw emotion at times from Dave Bautista. The film is based on the 2018 novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay. Shyamalan has taken the base of the novel and crafted a movie that will stick in the audience’s mind after the end credits have rolled. But can he pull off an adaptation that audiences will flock to?
While vacationing at a remote cabin, a family of three is suddenly held hostage by four strangers, who demand they sacrifice one of their own to avert the apocalypse.
He sure can. Knock At The Cabin starts with the Universal logo from the 1970s and 80s. And is a welcome touch, giving the audience the sense that we will be seeing a good old-fashioned thriller from a master filmmaker. And for the most part, we do. The film is violent, slightly gory, and contains some horror that feels mild until near the climax. Several scenes do push the film into R-rated territory, as does some strong language along the way. And for the majority of the film, our focus is solely on the seven main protagonists, as it should be. We do move away from them at several points but for the most part, we are confined to the cabin and its exterior.
The threat the film contains is at times scary but I found myself not feeling overly concerned for the protagonists for some reason. And despite the situation and the premise, I found there wasn’t much of a feeling of jeopardy. And that is a shame as the film had the potential to have me clutching the edge of my seat from the start. But the film does contain a tragic undertone that is utilized beautifully. Apart from Rupert Grint’s character of Redmond, we find ourselves having genuine feelings for the intruders. And their fates hit us emotionally.
Jonathan Groff as Eric, Ben Aldridge as Andrew, and Kristen Cui as Wen are superb as the three family members who find themselves in peril. Of the pairing of the adult males, it is Jonathan Groff that we find ourselves drawn to. His performance as Eric is sublime. While Aldridge’s Andrew is all threats, anger, and violent reactions, Groff gives a restrained performance as a man who wants to get his family out of their situation by diplomacy if he can. At times, he has a childlike quality to him that can’t help but draw the audience towards him. Aldridge is all bluster and swagger for the most part but by the climax, we find ourselves hopelessly liking him.
But Kristen Cui as Wen is a revelation. For an actress so young, she lets nothing faze her. When we first meet her, she is out collecting grasshoppers in a jar. Not to harm them but to study them as a child does. Throughout proceedings, she continues to act the part of a scared but smart young child, one that is thinking on her feet, despite her terror. It is a great performance from the young actress, and I can see her becoming a big star in the future. Based on her performance here, she has a bright future ahead of her.
NIKKI AMUKA-BIRD, ABBY QUINN, AND RUPERT GRINT
Nikki Amuka-Bird as Sabrina, Abby Quinn as Adriane, and Rupert Grint as Redmond all give great performances. And in terms of Amuka-Bird and Quinn, both come across as nice women who share a bond, despite only meeting that day they approach the cabin. Both give heartfelt, emotional performances that have us feeling both worried about them and for them. The raw emotion that both portray here is again enough to have us in the palms of their hands. And although we can feel how their journeys will end, we find ourselves hoping that both will see the end credits.
Rupert Grint, on the other hand, makes us hate him from the start. Gone is the boy we loved as Ron Weasley. Instead, we are introduced to a racist, violent thug. One who has a backstory with the male members of the family they are terrorizing. Grint is extraordinary here in a somewhat limited role. We see what kind of person his character is via a flashback sequence partway through the film. And it makes us despise him even more.
Dave Bautista as Leonard though is the MVP here. And he turns in a performance that will blow the audience away. Forget Drax or the Beast Rabban, here Bautista gives an exemplary performance. From the second we see him, he is soft-spoken, kind, and apologetic about what he has to do and put the family through. When the family refuses to choose a willing sacrifice, his body language alone depicts the despair and sadness he feels. Leonard is a character that in any other film would fill the screen with a quiet menace. But here, he is a simple man, a teacher that leads the other three members of the intruders in their shared goal.
Dave Bautista gives the film and the world a great and emotional performance that will endear him to the audience from the second they meet him. Where usually, we would see the wrestler-turned-actor give a comical or action-packed performance, here he is restrained as can be. And proves to the world that there is more to him than we have seen so far on screen. Bautista is a great actor here in a role and performance that will surprise the audience even though it shouldn’t. He has shown his acting chops before but here, he gives his best-ever performance and one that holds the film together throughout.
DIRECTION AND WRITING
You don’t need me to tell you that M. Night Shyamalan is a terrific director. And once again, he is here. The way he frames the shots, the purity of the images we see, and the way the film moves throughout its 100-minute runtime see the film become the best film he has directed outside of The Sixth Sense. Even with the effects shots, Shyamalan gives the audience a visual feast for the eyes. We can’t tear our gaze from the screen throughout and proves yet another brilliantly accomplished work from Shyamalan.
The problem is the writing. While the screenplay is excellent, moving, troubling, and makes us think, it bears almost no resemblance to the source novel. fans of the book are in for a disappointment here. It is commonplace to change things around for a movie version. But here, everything that had the reader gripped has been changed. The plagues that are unleashed on the world are still here (no spoilers here, it is all in the trailers). But fans of the book will instantly see what has been altered and where. And some may feel cheated by this.
Knock At The Cabin gains an extra star based on Dave Bautista’s performance alone. It really is that good. At the end of the day, the film presents us with an impossible choice. Do you save your family or do you sacrifice one to prevent the apocalypse? It is a moral decision that nobody should ever have to face. And the film presents this extremely well. It makes us think about what is more important to us. Do we save our family and then wander a burning earth with them while the rest of humanity has been eradicated? Or do we sacrifice someone we love so life and humanity can continue?
As the old Star Trek adage says, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” But can we or will we ever be prepared to do that? Can we bring ourselves to make such a devastating choice?
The film throws up these dilemmas and more as we progress. And the way it is resolved is up to our own interpretation. What is the correct choice? It is an unanswerable question. But one that we must consider during the film. Many of the flashback scenes in the film feel like throwaways. But keep a close eye and ear on them, they will come back into play before the film ends. The story is gripping, emotional, and fulfilling, the performances are excellent, and anyone scared of air travel or water will be hiding behind their fingers (again, it’s in the trailer). And the score fits the movie to perfection.
The changes from the source material won’t please everyone. But those not in the know won’t notice. By the time the resolution comes, the audience will know they’ve been through an emotional wringer. And they will walk out with the same thoughts. What would we do in the same situation? And who knew Dave Bautista could deliver a powerhouse of a performance? Despite its flaws, Knock At The Cabin is worth the price of admission. And will stay with you all the way home.
Knock At The Cabin opens in theaters on Friday, February 3rd from Universal Pictures.
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Carl Roberts is the News Editor of The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force frequently!