Knock at the Cabin (United States, 2023)

February 02, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Knock at the Cabin Poster

If Knock at the Cabin was an episode of the old TV series “The Outer Limits,” it would be regarded as middling and forgettable. Such descriptors seem kind, however, when applied to a 100-minute production that requires an admission fee. A mediocre mystery/thriller that never evolves beyond its obvious hook, the movie not only fails to draw in viewers but falls short both in terms of world-building and suspense. Although there are occasions when individual set pieces are effective (such as a short bit involving a locked bathroom door), the film as a whole seems more like a series of missed opportunities than a “return to form” for director M. Night Shyamalan, who continues to trade on a name he made two decades ago.

Made with more assurance, Knock at the Cabin might have been able to work in the same way that some of Alfred Hitchcock’s lesser efforts worked – as a refrigerator movie. But Shyamalan proves unable to milk the necessary tension out of his narrative. The ending feels preordained and, as a result, everything that comes before it is an exercise in artifice. None of the characters are sufficiently delineated (despite several flashbacks designed to flesh them out) for viewers to be invested in their fates. The resolution lacks anything resembling a “Shyamalan-esque” twist (or any other kind of twist, for that matter) to redeem the plodding midsection and the last-minute exposition dump (about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse).

The movie focuses on a family of three – gay couple Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff) and their adopted daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui) – who pick the wrong lakeside cabin to choose for a vacation. One day, four strangers – Leonard (Dave Bautista), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Ardiane (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint) – arrive at the door, wielding medieval weapons and claiming to have been driven to act by a prophesy. Their proclamation: only the sacrifice of one member of the family has the power to avert the apocalypse. The majority of the movie revolves around the ongoing debate about whether the strangers are perpetrating an elaborate hoax, are deluded members of a doomsday suicide cult, or are divinely influenced.

With a premise this outlandish, a deft hand is required to sell it to the audience because if they don’t buy into it early, the movie will never gain traction. Unfortunately, Shyamalan isn’t a good salesman. It doesn’t help that the faux TV newscasts he relies on to prove that the “plagues” are legitimate (one involves earthquakes and tsunamis, another involves a rapidly-spreading pandemic, etc.) lack verisimilitude. More attention to this particular detail (including perhaps hiring recognizable TV newspeople willing to appear) might have made the film more convincing.

Shyamalan has pulled together an interesting cast; the actors do their best to keep things afloat. Dave Bautista, best-known for his recent forays with the Guardians of the Galaxy, is surprisingly effective (and affecting) as a gentle giant – a second-grade teacher who hates the task that has fallen on his broad shoulders. Rupert Grint, once recognized as Ron Weasley across eight Harry Potter films, plays a very different role from the one that accorded him his fame. Jonathan Groff is an award-winning stage actor (and also the voice of Kristoff in the Frozen films). And Kristen Cui, making her feature debut, is one of the most natural child actors I’ve seen in a while.

Calling a Shyamalan film a “disappointment” has become redundant – the one-time wunderkind hasn’t made a halfway decent film in 19 years (the last one to qualify was 2004’s The Village) and, although Knock at the Cabin is substantially better than the various one-star and one-and-one-half-star titles littering his filmography, it’s par for the course for a February release. For those looking for a silver lining, Knock at the Cabin can at least boast superiority in almost every way to the apocalyptic stylings of Paul Lalonde, whose Left Behind movies somehow continue to be made. Talk about damning with faint praise.

Knock at the Cabin (United States, 2023)

Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Home Release Date: 2023-05-02
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence)
Genre: Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1