Knock at the Cabin

Paul G. Tremblay creates gut-wrenching worlds that make you question what you believe. In A Head Full of Ghosts, he took the arena of reality TV and family drama and mixed it with psychological horror to make you question what’s real. In A Cabin at the End of the World, he does it again, with the end of days as the result of hard decisions for a young family. Written in 2018, the book’s devastating scenario gets the M. Night Shyamalan treatment in Knock at the Cabin.

Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff) have rented a rustic cottage in an idyllic forest setting. Ready to relax with their almost 8-year-old daughter Wen (Kristen Cui), the family doesn’t expect anyone to come near their remote family vacation. Their solitude is broken when a large man named Leonard (Dave Bautista) approaches Wen as she catches grasshoppers, telling her that his heart is broken because of what he has to do. This task is the “most important job in the history of the world,” and only Wen and her dads can help. He’s joined by Adriane (Abby Quinn), Redmond (Rupert Grint), and Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), who have all been brought together by visions of the apocalypse. After Wen warns her dads, the four harbingers break into the home and hold the trio hostage, waiting for them to decide who will be a sacrifice to save the end of the world.

(from left) Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn), Redmond (Rupert Grint) and Leonard (Dave Bautista) in Knock at the Cabin, directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

As an avid fan of the book, I had to think about Knock at the Cabin for a moment.

The film came off a little like Birdbox, where you had to use your imagination, but with A Knock at the Cabin, there was plenty of dialogue and tight closeups of the character’s face. It was claustrophobic, creating tension and putting the focus on the gravity of what they were saying. The close shots conveyed the protagonists’ intense devotion but left me a little cold. What I found most startling was the changed ending, but I’ll get into that shortly.

Fans of classic Shyamalan will enjoy his brief appearance, and some clever quips during tense moments signal his typical tongue-in-cheek style. For such a gripping story, however, I felt the humour, as mild as it was, took you out of the drama, and the film lacked grit. If you’ve read the book, you know how far it goes at the end, and I didn’t get the same feeling of loss with the film as I did after reading the novel’s last words. The investment was changed in such a typical Hollywood way that I was at first confused and then really disappointed. After this sanitization of the story, I want to watch Martyrs again for its honest brutality.

What I did enjoy was seeing Tremblay’s words come to life with the cast. Bautista was perfect. His composed delivery of a man who believed humanity was doomed is worth the ticket. Even though Leonard was a giant, shaggy blond in the book, Bautista captured the gentle giant essence of the character and has decent acting chops. Grint, Amuka-Bird and Quinn were all equally intense. Groff and Aldridge, who play the same-sex couple, were good too, and the tenderness they exhibited with Cui played well off of her perky, adorable character. I also want to point out the opening credit sequence, showing the sketches of the four “villains” as they jotted down visions of death and destruction on mundane pieces of paper. They’re an important part of the story and were cleverly introduced to the audience.

(from left) Andrew (Ben Aldridge), Wen (Kristen Cui), Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Leonard (Dave Bautista) in Knock at the Cabin, directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Knock at the Cabin raises interesting questions about beliefs, perceptions, sacrifice and how far you’ll go to save your loved ones. Andrew feels their family is targeted because they are a same-sex couple, envisioning all the prejudices, homophobia and trauma associated with that and his past experiences, and we’re never really sure if he’s right or if it’s all coincidence. It doesn’t help that these four horsemen appear as regular folks, terrified of what they must do to save the world. As frightened as they are, their readiness to do the bidding of a higher power and, if they have to, sacrifice themselves to fulfil this prophecy shows a blind faith that is both disturbing and hits close to home because this devotion is seen in people’s political leanings, their religious affiliation and extremism.

If you’ve read the book, you’ll probably feel something’s missing when you see the cinematic version. If you’re a fan of Shyamalan and not interested in the source material, you’ll enjoy a tense thriller/horror that highlights Bautista’s range and takes a brief look at societal fears.


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