“Knock at the Cabin”

M. Night Shyamalan‘s legacy as a director began its sharp decline back in 2008 with “The Happening,” aka the Marky Mark killer plant movie. He continued on a path of self-destruction with “The Last Airbender,” “After Earth,” and most recently, “Old.”

With “Knock at the Cabin,” which Shyamalan (and co-writers Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman) adapted for the screen from Paul G. Tremblay’s horror novel “The Cabin at the End of the World,” he lands somewhere right in the middle of his film catalogue. It’s mediocre and forgettable, and just because it (admittedly) is Shyamalan’s best movie in years doesn’t mean that it’s great, or even passable.

While vacationing at a remote cabin in the woods, a couple (Ben Aldridge and Jonathan Groff) and their young daughter (Kristen Cui) are taken hostage by four armed strangers. They arrive out of the blue and demand that the family make a sacrifice in order to avert the apocalypse. It’s an impossible choice that involves a lot of struggles with belief, faith, sanity, and reality.

The story is solid, but the filmmaking is not. Shyamalan is one of the last working hacks in Hollywood, which means he has a lot of bad habits when it comes to making movies. Here, his directorial choices feel as amateurish and contrived as ever. Take the opening scene, for instance. Shyamalan relies on aggressive close-ups as an attempt to make the film feel unsettling and intense, but it instead comes across as lazy and irritating. Paired with Herdís Stefánsdóttir‘s discordant score, the film is set up from the get-go to cause strong feelings of annoyance.

About ten minutes in, I could already feel the disappointment coming story-wise, too. The writing isn’t awful, but there are several red herrings that are alluded to and then dropped, which leaves a lot of unanswered questions. This makes the eventual conclusion seem inadequate and unfulfilling, and the film asks for a lot of suspension of disbelief. Gone are the airtight lack of inconsistencies (like the ones in “The Sixth Sense”) that made Shyamalan’s earlier films so thrilling.

The performances are a surprise, and the film is cast quite well. Dave Bautista lends a quiet, menacing calm to his role, and Aldridge and Groff are terrific at showing a feeling of genuine fear. Abby Quinn, Nikki Amuka-Bird, and Rupert Grint play their home invader parts nicely, even if the script asks little of them. I do wish some of the supporting cast had a bit more screen time because they are so engaging. It does feel unfair to single out a child actor, but Cui is the weakest link in the cast.

“Knock at the Cabin” partially succeeds as an apocalyptic psychological thriller that questions some big ideas about faith and humanity, but the storytelling is slow and the ending feels like a massive letdown.

By: Louisa Moore

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