M. Night Shyamalan movies are hit or miss nowadays, so it’s a good thing this one isn’t half bad!
Set in a secluded cabin in the woods, Knock at the Cabin follows Eric (Jonathan Groff), Andrew (Ben Aldrige), and their adopted daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui), as they’re set upon by a group of mysterious people who are convinced an apocalypse is right around the corner. Led by the hulking Leonard (Dave Bautista), this potentially dangerous and possibly insane quartet soon forces themselves into Eric, Andrew, and Wen’s home, ties them up, and insists that one of them must die in order to avoid global catastrophe. As the day drags on, Eric and Andrew are at a loss for how to escape their situation until, that is, Leonard and his crew’s seemingly ridiculous claims start to come true. Is the apocalypse truly about to begin? Would a sacrifice actually stop it? Either way, someone’s not making it out of this one alive, and if Leonard and his fellow followers are to be believed, it might not just be the people sitting in the room that bite the dust but the entire world as well.
Based on the book The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay, Knock at the Cabin is a perfect vehicle for Shyamalan to show he still has what it takes to make a solid movie, despite him consistently working against that claim as of late. Having the benefit of working with two other writers on this film, Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman — a rarity for the filmmaker — while taking inspiration from Tremblay’s source material, these elements are quite possibly the exact reasons why this movie avoided many of the traps Shyamalan’s lesser films usually fall into.
Unlike his last train wreck of a film in 2021’s Old, Knock at the Cabin is directed with an effective but reserved style that works well within the confined uncertainty of the plot, with the moodiness of the filmmaking and careful scripting helping to push Shyamalan’s strengths to the forefront, while hiding some of his more nagging tendencies as a director otherwise. Also helping Shyamalan along is Dave Bautista’s Leonard who absolutely enthralls as a man whose anxious energy and giant frame bring an unnerving and measured terror to every scene he’s in, effectively putting me a bit on edge every time. Throw in some equally as disconcerting performances from his colleagues and a solid set of protagonists to hope and fear for, and the few things that bring the movie down — like some head-scratching scenes that feel as if Shyamalan wanted to add some much-needed characterization to his players but stopped short and thought better of it for reasons unknown — aren’t major but are just enough to keep this one from being even better than it already is.
I liked this film more than I thought I would, and since Shyamalan’s latest downtick in filmmaking quality has marred his last few movies, I was even more impressed by what I saw here. Still, there are a few weird moments that don’t feel right when it comes to the story elements and progression of the plot as well as a few contrivances mixed in that I could have done without, but overall, Knock at the Cabin is a tentative return to form for a writer/director that needs to be more consistent moving forward.