Knock at the Cabin Has Excellent Performances but Little Else

Any time I sit down to watch a new M. Night Shyamalan movie, I’m always cautiously optimistic. His career has been a roller coaster ride with some super high highs, a bunch of terribly low lows, and a handful of films that land somewhere in between. You never really know what you’re going to get with this guy, so even though I’m always excited to see his work, I’m also always a little scared. And his latest movie, Knock at the Cabin, was no exception. I’ve been looking forward to it for a while, but I still went into it with that same mix of trepidation and excitement. I tried to temper my expectations, and I did my best to go into it with an open mind.

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, Knock at the Cabin was adapted from a book called The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay, and it stars Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn and Rupert Grint. It’s about Andrew and Eric, a couple who take a vacation at a remote cabin with their young daughter Wen, and while there, they’re attacked by a group of four strangers named Leonard, Sabrina, Adriane, and Redmond.

These strangers quickly overpower the couple and tie them up, but strangely, they’re not there to steal anything or harm anyone. Instead, they claim that they were sent to avert the impending apocalypse. See, they say the world is going to end soon, and Andrew, Eric, and Wen are the only ones who can stop that from happening. One of them has to be sacrificed, or else the entire world will go up in flames (quite literally)…or will it?

That’s a great premise for a horror movie, but unfortunately, Knock at the Cabin fumbles the execution quite a bit. To be fair, it gets one key thing right, so before we talk about why I ended up not liking this film, let’s go over its main strength. Hands down, the best thing about it is the performances. The entire cast is excellent, so I never once doubted that these were real people experiencing real, traumatic events.

Three people standing

In particular, I really enjoyed the four attackers, played by Dave Bautista, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn and Rupert Grint. It would’ve been easy for Shyamalan to make them generic horror villains or religious fanatics, but they’re so much more than that. Each one of these characters has a unique backstory and personality, and all four actors do a phenomenal job of bringing them to life.

Similarly, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, and Kristen Cui do an equally great job as Eric, Andrew, and Wen. In fact, in a certain sense, their performances are even better. See, Leonard, Sabrina, Adriane, and Redmond are all interesting people with interesting little quirks that make them unique, but Eric, Andrew, and Wen are much more mundane. There’s nothing particularly interesting about them, so they stand or fall on the strength of their performances. And thankfully, all three of these actors are excellent. They’re able to breathe a ton of life into these more or less generic characters, so I came to love them very quickly.

Normally, great characters like these are enough to make a film at least enjoyable, but unfortunately, that’s not the case with Knock at the Cabin. Despite how much I liked everybody in it, I thought the movie told its story in a way that sapped it of almost all its energy.

First and foremost, I just never found it all that thrilling, and it never really made me feel the weight of the impending (possible) apocalypse. Sure, it has its moments, but on the whole, there wasn’t much in here that raised my pulse and got me on the edge of my seat. To be fair, I’m not entirely sure why I felt that way. There were even times when I thought to myself that I should’ve been loving what I was seeing on screen, but it just didn’t do anything for me. I still don’t fully know what the problem was, but there is one concrete issue I can pinpoint.

Knock at the Cabin gives us Andrew, Eric, and Wen’s backstory entirely through flashbacks, and for me, those flashbacks kept the movie from building any real momentum. There were even a few times when I thought it was starting to get really good, but every time that happened, the film would always shoot itself in the foot by quickly switching to a flashback.

Two men and a girl looking scared

I understand that these scenes are meant to flesh out the main characters and their relationships with each other, but this part of the story should’ve been told at the beginning, before the action started. That way, once the strangers attacked, the movie could’ve steadily built up the tension and suspense without having to keep starting from scratch every few minutes.

Along similar lines, there are also a handful of gruesome moments in Knock at the Cabin that had the potential to be some of the most effective horror scenes of Shyamalan’s career, but he completely botched them. He chose to either not show them at all or only show very little of them, and that drained them of almost all their impact.

Last but not least, we have the film’s message. More specifically, I have an issue with the way this movie conveys its main point. As you can probably guess, since Knock at the Cabin is about a gay couple, the film is largely a plea for tolerance and acceptance (although there’s a bit more to it as well), and I thought it hammered that point home way too much.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a movie with something to say, but I don’t want my films to be preachy. That’s why, for example, even though I’m a Christian, I don’t watch Christian movies. I want a film to convey its message subtly and naturally through its story, so when it feels more like a sermon than a film, it loses me. And unfortunately, that’s what happened with Knock at the Cabin. It just harps on its main point way more than it needs to, so after a while, it began to really grate on me.

Because of all those problems, I’m sad to say that I wouldn’t recommend Knock at the Cabin. Like I said before, I was looking forward to this movie quite a bit, so I’m really bummed out about it. While it has excellent characters brought to life by excellent performances, pretty much everything else about it is lackluster at best. It’s not scary or thrilling, and it’s a bit too preachy for my tastes.

Knock at the Cabin is playing in theaters right now.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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