Eric and Andrew and their adopted daughter Wenn are taking a well-earned break at an isolated cabin when the young girl is approached by an imposing figure who calls himself Leonard. Unfortunately, Leonard and his friends – Sabrina, Adriane and Redmond – have come to deliver some bad news.
They announce they are they have received visions and a very singular mission: to stop the coming apocalypse… and that the only way for that to happen is for one of the cabin’s inhabitants to die.
They can’t be murdered or killed against their will, they must willingly give up their life for the sake of everyone else on Earth. Quite understandably Eric and Andrew choose not to believe these strangers, but as their personal deadline ticks away, Leonard and his friends begin to demonstrate just how committed they are to their mission and how willing they are to use their weapons to convince the family of the apocalyptic imperative…
There’s a lyric in Evita that goes “She didn’t say much, but she said it loud…” Much could also be said or sung about the work of M. Night Shyamalan, a writer/director with a list of movies of considerably varying quality, ones that often – and infamously – rely on the appeal of a big reveal that makes you reassess what you’ve seen. However that’s a precarious element, especially when your audience now expects and prepares for the unexpected and in recent years, Shyamalan’s movies have even lacked that quality – leaning far more into bizarre, extreme and askew high-concept situations where the ending is less of a surprise and more of a ‘Is that it?‘ and ‘What was all that actually all about?‘
That’s very much true of Knock at the Cabin, an outing that may have become the top-earner at the US box-office for the last week, but where such an achievement has to be seriously graded on a very weak curve of other available choices…
If this is a ‘message’ movie of any sort – and I’m sure it thinks it is – I’m stumped as to what that message is, as the final result is a scattershot exercise that seems to throw every denominational detritus at the wall and hopes something sticks with a profound-sounding splat. It doesn’t…
IF this is a ‘message’ movie of any sort – and I’m sure it thinks it is – I’m stumped as to what that message is, as the final result is a scattershot exercise that seems to throw every denominational detritus at the wall and hopes something sticks with a profound-sounding splat. It doesn’t. It talks about the innate power of belief then points vaguely at everything while failing to commit to anything. This is truly an all-purpose but apathetic and diluted apocalypse and a film so un-anchored that it leaves itself open to a multitude of brickbats or bouquets from every direction as you see fit.
Like a cult itself, this is the sort of enterprise that only offers what you already bring with you – a host of ideas huddled under a tin-foil umbrella begging for any sort of validation. Are you pro-gay, anti-gay, ambivalent, a Q-Anon supporter, an atheist, an Evangelist or a full-on prepping survivalist…. this one-size-fits-all-pseudo-morality play has something for all.
One one hand, despite all talks of industry progress, it’s a rare mainstream movie has gay actors playing a gay couple where that isn’t the ‘selling point’. You could argue that this thriller doesn’t draw any distinction between a same-sex couple and a heterosexual couple. Except, that it does: it consistently goes out of its way to tell us how unimportant that factor is while incorporating it on a genetic level to suggest it might be. The various flashbacks consist of the couple facing disappointment from Andrew’s parents and their lack of approval (“They travelled over seven hours and then spent 45 minutes” he noted) and are forced to lie in their efforts to adopt. Plus: Are Andrew and Eric being singled out in this hostage-situation because of their orientation? ‘No!!!‘ shoots back the script in indignation and various characters, including Dave Bautista’s Leonard go out of their way to assure them he’d never be judgmental and thinks their love is probably ‘pure’. But when it’s revealed that one of Leonard’s group – Rupert Grint’s Redmond – may well have previously attacked Andrew in a hate-crime years before, it certainly muddies those waters. Equally, for a film denying any prejudice or preference, it certainly falls neatly into the ‘kill your gays‘ trope that says same-sex relationship are totally great as long as they end in tragedy.
The list of problematic double-standards and dead-end logic just keeps multiplying. Central to it all: Why are Leonard’s group doing this anyway? When even your antagonists have no concrete idea why they’re doing the most extreme things, the script doesn’t feel inclined to fill in the rather all-important blanks. (Beyond meeting in a chat-room and supposedly sharing visions and a feeling of cosmic inevitability, they’ve descended on the cabin with a time-to-kill mission statement and a to-do list that must be to-done or the world ends). What entity – heavenly, alien, demonic, oh…who knows? – has given them these protocols and commandments; why do they believe the edicts so completely and how does the sacrifice accounting-system that they follow actually accomplish anything? Nope, not a clue.
Bearing all this in mind, what person in their right mind is going to go along with any of the strangers’ demands? As mission statements go, I wouldn’t buy a car from them, never mind agree to die. All wifi is down at the cabin, but somehow a television works and we get a stream of convenient info-dump news reports claiming a range of awful events that come in waves as every deadline passes: Yet each report innately feels fake – and that’s before we get to Shyamalan’s obligatory cameo. Fateful events that would have taken hours, days or even weeks to acknowledge and comment upon are all delivered with solemn sincerity and angst as if they were spontaneous ‘breaking news’ that surpasses even CNN’s dedication to that description.. A ‘live’ report shows the events before and after a hundred-foot high tsumani hits the shoreline, news of a spike in the number of kids dying from a virus seems as if it’s come out of nowhere in the matter of minutes and I’m not sure how a report on plummeting planes could be offered with the reporter barely breaking a sweat.
Cast-wise, Dave Bautista is the stand-out performance here. Despite his imposing frame he’s the most softly-spoken character, consistently earnest and apologetic and about as far away from a murderous interloper as can be imagined. Grint sheds any of his remaining Harry Potter years, but along with Nikki Amuka-Bird’s Sabrina and Abby Quinn as Adriane, their roles are very much in-the-moment and cloaked in uncertainties. The fact that they are the anti-Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a nice idea, but badly ‘executed’ (every pun intended). Kristen Cui as Wen is very engaging, able to play the cute and the distraught with effectiveness beyond her years but isn’t the pivot she needs to be. Jonathan Groff as Eric and Ben Alridge as Andrew make an engaging couple you can believe in, even as they handle the emergency in very different ways.
Though equally open to strong, disparate views and biting critiques, the source-material – Paul G. Tremblay’s original 2018 novel The Cabin at the End of the World – (for once, Shyamalan isn’t directing from his own concept) was at least far more committed to a more nihilistic stance about the whys and wherefores of belief and sacrifice. The young Wenn (who is strangely adrift in the film’s narrative) was a far more important element in the climax of that original version of the story. The couple’s final choice on the printed page is far more easy to understand even if you don’t agree with it. Here the film alters all that final act and effectively neuters all of that intent and shock value. The world was going to end in a series of bangs and now it survives with a series of whimpers, but still under the thumb of a nasty, vindictive, petulant omnipotent force.
With lots of questions, very few answers and an ironic tsunami of style over substance, this is yet another Shyamalan effort sold on spectacle, but when the curtain is pulled back, there’s nothing to see or believe in.
- Production Design / VFX7