I should probably point out that I’m a fan of M. Night Shyamalan. Not that he’s knocked every movie out of the park, mind you. I think most of us can agree that a few of them - maybe more than a few - have been hot garbage. But even in some of his worst films, there’s sort of an off-center quirkiness to his stories and characters that I find amusing.
Early successes like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable set the bar pretty damn high, so maybe it was inevitable that so many subsequent films were seen as disappointments. But with tempered expectations, I found recent efforts like Old, The Visit and even The Happening highly enjoyable (while fully acknowledging their wonkier elements).
That being said, Knock at the Cabin immediately scored points with me for taking out Cannon Beach, Oregon with a massive tsunami. Cannon Beach is in my neck of the woods, so trust me when I say what used to be a quaint little coastal town has long-since evolved into a trendy, overpriced tourist trap. As far as I’m concerned, the sea can have her.
Cannon Beach’s well-deserved demise is just one of several cataclysmic events foretold by four strangers who break into a family’s vacation home and gravely inform them that the world will end unless they willingly sacrifice one of their own. The parents, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), naturally believe the group is a bunch of delusional zealots and refuse to play along, even after leader Leonard (Dave Bautista) insists the escalating disasters on TV are the result.
However, Andrew counter-argues that some of the events were already occurring, and for a while, we’re led to suspect these strangers could be crazy after all…at least until 700 airliners simultaneously drop from the sky. Even then, it seems that Eric and Andrew appear ready to doom the world to save their daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui). Interestingly, that had me pondering what I would do in the same situation. Call me selfish, but sorry folks…you’re all going down.
Like Shyamalan’s last film, Old, the story and tone of Knock at the Cabin are pretty grim, mainly because the very concept precludes a hunky-dory ending. The entire film takes place in and around the cabin, which tends to render the apocalyptic implications a little less ominous. There are also a few asides that ultimately aren’t all that necessary, such as the flashbacks depicting obstacles Andrew & Eric have faced as a gay couple. These scenes certainly earn our empathy, but are almost completely irrelevant to the main narrative.
The success or failure of a movie like this ultimately comes down to the performances. Groff and Andrew are solid in their roles, while young Ciu holds her own as the story grows increasingly intense. However, the movie belongs to Bautista, masterfully balancing compassion, menace, fear and fortitude, sometimes within the same scene. Despite his hulking, tattooed presence, we totally buy him as a kindhearted second grade teacher forced to do the unthinkable. Of all the former WWE stars to graduate from the ring to the screen, he’s arguably their valedictorian.
Because of their unusual concepts and oddball flourishes, I tend to evaluate Shyamalan films based on how they measure up to other Shyamalan films (he is sort of a brand name). Knock at the Cabin doesn’t rank among his greatest, but the wild premise and Bautista’s knock-out performance make it a gloomy good time. There’s also the added bonus of watching Cannon Beach go down.
FEATURETTES - “Choosing Wisely: Behind the Scenes of Knock at the Cabin” (runs about 24 minutes); “Tools of the Apocalypse” (the strange makeshift weapons, aka ‘tools’); “Drawing a Picture” (storyboards); “Kristen Cui Shines a Light” (focus on the child actor).
EXTENDED “CHOWBLASTER” COMMERCIAL - Longer version of M. Night’s usual cameo.
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