Movie Review: Knock at the Cabin

The latest M. Night Shyamalan thriller is better than some of his duds, but the director can't stay out of his own way.


Funny thing about “Knock at the Cabin,” the latest thriller from M. Night Shyamalan — the fake news footage is better than the actual movie.

At several points in the film, the characters turn on a TV to see natural disasters taking place around the world. These sequences are striking and compelling; much of the rest of the film is clunky and awkward.

When he has to imitate news footage, you see, Shyamalan is constrained to a fairly straightforward style. Otherwise, he’s busy undercutting his own movie with meaningless directorial flourishes and his signature style of irritating, stilted dialogue.

More than 20 years into his career, Shyamalan has consistently emerged as his own worst enemy. That’s never been more true than in “Knock at the Cabin,” a movie that might’ve been good but is held to mediocrity by its director’s bad habits. It is probably the best of Shyamalan’s bad movies; it has a compelling premise and several above-average performers. Watching it, though, is mainly an exercise in observing how another filmmaker might’ve handled the material better.

Based on a well-regarded novel by Paul G. Tremblay, “Knock at the Cabin” finds a small family — fathers Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) — faced with bizarre intruders at their lakeside vacation home. A pack of home invaders, led by a soft-spoken giant (Dave Bautista), breaks in and informs them that the world is about to end. The only way to avert the apocalypse, we’re told, is for the family to willingly sacrifice one member.

It’s an effective dramatic setup, and the cast — especially Bautista and an edgy Rupert Grint — sells it well. There are stray moments where the locked-room setting effectively ratchets the tension, and a few of the developments are shocking enough to be almost chilling.

Shyamalan, unfortunately, can’t get out of his own way. A series of utterly meaningless flashbacks does nothing but let the air out of the building tension. Characters speak in unrealistic, writerly tones, pulling attention from the plot. The camera drifts and zooms in a style that can only be named “just messing around.”

Like many thrillers, “Knock at the Cabin” doesn’t quite pay off its impressive premise. In this, too, Shyamalan has erred; without giving away the ending, it’s a change from the book (Shyamalan rewrote the script, despite the original version being widely praised and sitting on Hollywood’s famed Black List for years) that dulls the story’s ambiguity and impact.

“Knock at the Cabin” is not as silly as “Old,” and it isn’t as mean-spirited and offensive as “The Visit” or “Split.” Shyamalan has undoubtedly made worse movies. Don’t mistake “Knock at the Cabin,” though, for a return to form; it’s merely less of a disaster than it might’ve been.

My Rating: 5/10

“Knock at the Cabin” is now playing in theaters.

Categories: Sean Collier’s Popcorn for Dinner