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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Criticism: ‘Knock at the Cabin’

Knock at the Cabin Movie Poster
Courtesy of IMDb
Knock at the Cabin Movie Poster

Rating: 5/10
 

M. Night Shyamalan’s latest thriller, “Knock at the Cabin,” is a reminder of a great director wanting to play with big ideas without actually committing to them. Like most of Shyamalan’s movies, the plot is built on one premise. When two gay men and their adopted daughter are enjoying an isolated vacation in the woods, Dave Bautista’s character Leonard and three other intimidating figures show up, insisting on a sacrifice. The family must choose to sacrifice one of themselves to prevent the apocalypse. 

Shyamalan has matured into a simple thriller director after years of young and inconsistent decision-making. When he directed “The Sixth Sense” (1999) there was talk of a ‘new Spielberg’, but went on to create only occasionally interesting films before the famously egregious “The Last Airbender” (2010) on the way. In the past decade, he found his niche. As a director, writer and producer, he’s managed to turn consistent profits from more small-scale thrillers. His latest is a chamber drama with only a handful of characters almost entirely in one location, but will certainly turn yet another profit. 

In its favor is an exciting cinematic vision. Shyamalan is a student of the form, and there are clear nods and developments from some of the masters. Having studied how Akira Kurosawa blocks his actors or how Ingmar Bergman shoots the face, “Knock at the Cabin” features truly evocative extreme closeups and clever blocking in such a small location. Both his composer and editor take risks for a more interesting style, often with great success. On a technical level, Shyamalan knows how to craft suspense. 

Where I’m consistently interested in his direction, I’m so regularly uninterested in his scripts. Shyamalan is such a literal director, more in tune with Hitchcock’s famous philosophy that audience reaction is more important than the content of the film. Most audiences would probably be interested, perhaps even invested, in the concept of “Knock at the Cabin,” but rarely provoked. The script has a lot on its mind, but undercuts most of those ideas. 

One interest is the fears of gay men in America. There are flashbacks to the joys of this relationship or the violence they’ve suffered. That authenticity lacks personality. The flashbacks are generic, artificial and more fixed in working as a plot device than as a depiction of gay romance. It’s unsurprising, because Shyamalan is obviously more interested in mystery than romance or ideas, but lazy. 

“Knock at the Cabin” wants to work on an emotional level, but doesn’t commit there either. For a film mostly interested in a difficult choice, the weight of that decision is secondary to the feasibility of the plot. After spending most of the story examining that feasibility, the film fails on a psychological level because it offers none of the ambiguity it built its suspense on, and fails on a character level because the choices are automatic and irrelevant to that plot. 

There are compelling ideas of faith and more overt religious suggestions, but every investment in the characters feels like a missed opportunity because it’s so buried under a mystery about the apocalypse. That being said, the actors completely elevate the material. Dave Bautista and Ben Aldridge ground their subject matter and give humanity to the outlandish, but the extremely watchable performances can’t ground such a confused script. 

“Knock at the Cabin” is a solid film with some clear misjudgments. Those that have read the book it’s based on might find an interesting comparison here and fans of efficient thrillers will get some effective suspense. I was often intrigued and occasionally bored, but somehow Shyamalan always manages to be interesting.

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